President Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Jan. 25 at The Capitol. Behind him are Vice President Biden, left, and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
As he proposed a five-year freeze on discretionary domestic spending in Tuesday night's State of the Union speech, President Obama also signaled plans to "merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government" as part of a larger drive to sharpen the United States' economic competitiveness.
"We cannot win the future with a government of the past," Obama told lawmakers. The White House plans to draft its restructuring proposal in coming months, he added, and then submit it to Congress. "And we will push to get it passed."
An annual ritual, this year's speech came as the White House is under intense pressure from congressional Republicans to bring down the federal budget deficit. Earlier Tuesday, the GOP-controlled House passed a symbolic resolution to return non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels.
"We believe the days of business of usual must come to an end," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in the official Republican response to Obama's speech. "Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first."
Neither Ryan nor Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican speaking for the Tea Party Express, targeted specific programs for downsizing or elimination.
Bachmann, however, urged Obama to support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and said that administration spending had added to federal bloat.
"Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy which tells which light bulbs to buy," she said.
The White House http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20110125/AGENCY01/101250301/">had previously telegraphed Obama's call for a five-year freeze on domestic spending, which he said would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade.
"This freeze will require painful cuts," Obama said, noting that federal employee salaries are frozen for the next two years.
He also expressed willingness to consider deeper reductions, but added that they should not come on the backs of vulnerable citizens or at the expense of innovation.
More surprising was his plan to pursue a broader governmental streamlining.
The last major reorganization occurred in the era of black-and-white television, Obama said, adding that a dozen different agencies now deal with exports and at least five handle housing policy. While the Interior Department oversees salmon while they're in fresh water, the Commerce Department takes over when in salt water. "And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked," he said to laughter from lawmakers.
In a statement afterwards, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., called Obama's words "music to my ears."
"Particularly as we struggle with massive federal deficits," Carper said, "we have to ensure that we are getting the biggest bang for the taxpayers' buck when it comes to running the federal government."
• Military Times: http://www.militarytimes.com/news/2011/01/military-state-of-the-union-obama-pentagon-cuts-012511w/">Obama warns more Pentagon cuts may be needed