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Obama can use legislation and executive action to push agenda: aide

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington December 4, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington December 4, 2013.

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama can most effectively advance his economic agenda by getting Congress to pass laws, but there is a lot the administration can accomplish through unilateral actions, a senior White House official said on Wednesday.

"The biggest impact you can have on the macro economy requires legislation," White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman said.

However, "an issue like climate change and energy security, there's a lot we can do administratively," Furman added in response to questions at Third Way, a think tank.

Obama has had a combative relationship with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and would face an uphill struggle for most of his jobs and economic proposals. While a recent budget deal that reversed some spending cuts was viewed as a ceasefire, it is unclear whether the spirit of compromise will go any further.

In that environment, the president has brought in John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, saying that among Podesta's duties will be to craft executive actions the president can take without needing congressional approval.

Furman said the president's big-ticket agenda items such as universal early education or infrastructure would require legislation.

"We're looking at a range of other actions that would affect wages and inequality, but the biggest dials are still legislative," he said.

Furman cited the December budget compromise as an example of a legislative accomplishment that had an impact on the broad economy.

However, that measure did not include an extension of long-term unemployment insurance beyond January 1, which is something the president continues to urge Congress to take up, he said.

The president will push for an increase in the minimum wage, Furman said. The wage currently stands at $7.25 an hour and Obama has said he would like to see it rise to $9 an hour.

Furman pointed to past minimum wage increases signed into law by Republican presidents or under a Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to do something like that," he said.

Highway reauthorization that expires in the fall is another opportunity to pass legislation that could boost growth, Furman said.

However, Furman said the White House will work with businesses to encourage hiring practices that would make a dent in long-term unemployment.

The White House is also taking a look at regulations to see which ones could be simplified, he added.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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