While President Obama is thousands of miles from Washington this week on a foreign policy trip, his administration is trying to cultivate the image of a president-in-action at home.
"'We Can't Wait' initiatives won't wait for President Obama to return from abroad," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted Sunday night. "We have some announcements coming this week."
The first comes from the Department of Health and Human Services which today unveils a multi-million dollar federal grant program meant to grow the nation's health-care workforce and encourage cost-saving innovations. It's the latest step in a presidential campaign to create jobs.
The more than half dozen so-called executive actions announced by Obama over the past few weeks has also been aimed at boosting public opinion of his job performance and policy agenda while contrasting it with political gridlock in Congress. But the president's critics say the steps' impact will be limited at best.
So who do the measures affect, and how effective will they be? Here's a look at six "We Can't Wait" actions announced by Obama:
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, took steps in October to help some struggling homeowners with their mortgages. Borrowers who have loans from Fannie or Freddie prior to May 31, 2009, and who have good credit with no late payments in the past six months will be eligible for refinancing, under the new rules backed by Obama.
Economists disagree on the number of people who would benefit. Some say it would effect fewer than 1 million households, a relatively small number given that more than 6 million homeowners are facing foreclosure or have delinquent payments. Others say the restrictions are too stringent and automatically cut out those under-water homeowners who have bad credit.
|Curbing Drug Shortages|
Obama signed an executive order on Oct. 31 directing the Food and Drug Administration to broaden reporting of potential drug shortages, expedite regulatory reviews that can help prevent shortages, and examine whether potential shortages have led to illegal price gouging. The White House says the order will expedite government efforts to curb drug shortages while legislation to remedy the situation remains pending in Congress. But the order does not give the administration any broad new authority. It simply "enhances" and "amplifies" steps that are already being taken, officials said. The FDA will hire five new staffers to work on drug shortage issues. It also sent a letter to drug companies reminding them to report the discontinuation of drugs.
|Veterans Job Search Tools|
On Nov. 7, Obama announced new job search tools for unemployed military veterans provided through the Labor Department using existing funds. The administration says the tools will immediately help veterans transition to the civilian workforce, though they offer no guarantee of jobs.
A so-called "veteran gold card" allows post-9/11 veterans to receive six months of case management, skills assessments and career counseling at one of the roughly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers run by the Labor Department. The administration says more than 200,000 unemployed veterans are eligible for the benefits.
The Labor Department has also launched two new websites: My Next Move for Veterans, which will provide information on salaries, apprenticeships and training programs, and the Veterans Job Bank, which currently lists 500,000 job postings companies have tailored for veterans.
|Student Loan Savings|
Obama announced on Oct. 26 the acceleration of a plan to help college students manage their debts. The initiative allows some student borrowers to cap their monthly loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income starting next year, two years earlier than previously expected. It will also forgive remaining debt on federal loans after 20 years. The plan would also help students with multiple federal student loans consolidate their debt at a lower interest rate.
The administration says the repayment cap will help 1.6 million students lower their monthly payments, and 6 million students consolidate their lowers under a lower rate. But the new loan rules only apply students who take out loans in 2012 and have had at least one other loan in the previous four years.
|Head Start Rules Revamped|
The Obama administration on Nov. 8 announced new rules for "lower performing" recipients of federal Head Start grants for early childhood development. For the first time, service providers deemed deficit under federal guidelines will no longer automatically continue to receive funds. Instead, they will have to "re-compete" for taxpayer dollars in a competition with other applicants through the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the program.
|Trimming Travel and "Swag"|
Obama signed an executive order on Nov. 9 slashing funding for federal travel, government-issued cell phones and excessive document printing. It also puts limits on purchases of "swag" – the clothing, mugs, plaques and other promotional items that agencies acquire with taxpayer money. The administration claims roughly $4 billion in budget savings that it says will be applied to higher priorities.