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Obama Government-Streamlining Offer Creates GOP Dilemma

Maybe even if it weren't a general-election year, President Obama would still be proposing that Congress give him the power to merge federal agencies to make the government smaller and more efficient.

But the fact is it is the year in which the president is seeking re-election, a year in which both the eventual Republican presidential nominee and Obama's GOP opponents in Congress will assert hundreds of times before it's over that he is a big-government Democrat.

So the president's proposal Friday that Congress grant him the authority to streamline government comes just in time to serve as a handy defense against those election-year charges from Republicans that he's a defender of oversized and wasteful government.

According to the Associated Press, which got a heads-up on the president's proposal from a White House official, the first recommended mergers would be in the commerce and trade areas.

Obama would be able to propose consolidations and Congress would dispose of them in 90 days with a simple up or down vote. President Ronald Reagan was the last Oval Office to have this authority.

The official told the AP that 1,000 to 2,000 jobs would be eliminated through attrition (that should ease some of the opposition from unions that represent federal workers.) The savings would be as much as $3 billion over 10 years, the official said.

What's not to love if you're a small-government Republican? It should be an offer congressional Republicans can't refuse.

Which is exactly the point. Obama is placing congressional Republicans in a box by presenting them with an idea they should be quick to embrace.

But it comes from a president whose agenda they seem to reflexively recoil against. And it also comes during an election year when the last thing they want to give him are any legislative victories that might help him win re-election.

Thus the dilemma for congressional Republicans.

If they reject it, Obama can add another arrow to his quiver of attacks against a do-nothing Congress while he can campaign as someone who would streamline government if only Republicans would let him.

And if congressional Republicans accept it, they give him a victory he can campaign on.

Either way, it allows him to better position himself against Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee. Romney's 59-point economic plan includes reducing the size of the federal workforce and eliminating duplication.

Friday's proposal gives Obama his own counter to Romney.

So now the ball's clearly in the Republican court. If the past is any guide, their response will be that Obama's plan doesn't go nearly far enough in whittling big government down to size.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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