Obama Plans Meetings to Solicit Ideas for Job Creation

Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 11:07 PM

By Cathy Burke

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President Barack Obama is using business leaders, educators, and nonprofits to push his jobs agenda when Congress won't – holding two summits this month, one with college and university presidents and another with corporations, the Washington Post reports.

Besides "convening sessions," the president will aggressively put allies to work on issues, The Post reports.

"I've got a phone that allows me to convene Americans from every walk of life — nonprofits, businesses, the private sector, universities — to try to bring more and more Americans together around what I think is a unifying theme: making sure that this is a country where if you work hard, you can make it," Obama said Tuesday before meeting with his Cabinet.

Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told The Post that when the president calls business, schools, and nonprofit leaders, "that's using the power of the presidency and the Oval Office to urge people to do things. And that's a significant thing."

The convening strategy will begin playing out this week, The Post reported, when a White House summit Thursday invites more than 100 college and university presidents who are expected to promise to enroll more low-income students – and make sure they graduate.

The administration this month also is sponsoring a meeting for corporations in the hopes of getting pledges to hire the long-term unemployed, The Post reported.

Privately, the president is asking supporters to step up involvement in issues including foreign investment in the United States, youth and women's issues, and hiring military veterans, The Post reported.

"Twenty percent of the time something's going to happen which has meaningful impacts on the economy and American life," Chris Caine, president and chief executive of the D.C.-based consulting firm Mercator XXI, told The Post.

"Eighty percent of the time these convening sessions are initiatives run out of the integration of the White House policy and political shops and end up being a mere daily sound bite," Caine said. "After all, we have a 365-day electoral calendar that never stops."

But National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, heading the college summit, said there are big hopes.

"Whenever I spoke to any group of college presidents, foundations, or businesses, we made crystal-clear that we are not doing a conference to do panels for panels' sake, or to talk about what everyone thinks they are already doing good," Sperling said. "We made clear we are doing this to change the world by changing the paths of young people's lives."

The Post noted that the practice of convening outside groups to promote a president's agenda dates to President Theodore Roosevelt, and was used to good effect by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

"When the White House rings the bell, all of us go to the starting line ready to intensify our work," Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield told The Post. "We're asking ourselves, "What more can we do?'"

Not everybody’s so gung-ho, however.

'A number of colleges and universities are making a concerted effort to expand their outreach and improve the affordability and accessibility of a college education, and events like this are unlikely to have a significant impact, either positive or negative, on those efforts," one unidentified official told The Post.

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