WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama, long accused of keeping Congress at arm's length, is focusing even more intently on working around lawmakers rather than with them as he pursues his second-term agenda.
With deep spending cuts set to take effect Friday and the White House and Republicans at an impasse, the president has signaled his priority this week will be talking to the public about his own plan to avoid the cuts, rather than negotiating with lawmakers. Mr. Obama plans to visit Newport News, Va., Tuesday to argue for a package of spending cuts and tax revenues to replace the budget cuts.
On this and other issues, Mr. Obama has adopted a strategy of using his platform to try to build a public consensus that will compel lawmakers to act. Through a variety of executive actions and a campaign aimed at winning the battle for public opinion, the president has made clear he would like lawmakers' help, but will proceed without it.
White House aides have concluded Mr. Obama gained little by spending his time in meetings with Republican lawmakers during the string of crisis-driven budget negotiations over the past two years, according to senior administration officials.
The president conveyed his intention to go it alone in his State of the Union address, as he prodded Congress to act but reminded lawmakers that he could accomplish some of his goals without them. He nudged Congress again on Monday at a session with the nation's governors, saying that Washington "has to get past its obsession with focusing on the next election instead of the next generation."
In the State of the Union address, Mr. Obama renewed his request for $1 billion to create a network of 15 institutes to develop manufacturing technologies, an idea Congress rejected last year. At the same time, he said he would create three manufacturing institutes on his own.
Similarly, Mr. Obama urged Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change. "But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," the president said in his address. Environmentalists want him to expand the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of power plants.
On immigration, the president has made clear he will give Congress limited running room before pushing his own plan. "If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away," Mr. Obama said last month.
The threat of unilateral action has drawn criticism from congressional Republicans, who say voters chose divided government, which should be read as a mandate to find common ground.
"The president, instead, appears to have chosen a go-it-alone approach to pursue his liberal agenda," House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said after the State of the Union speech.
Lawmakers in both parties say they have heard little from the president, even to coordinate on policies they have in common.
When Mr. Obama called for raising the minimum wage in his State of the Union address, it caught even some Democrats by surprise. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. George Miller of California, both Democrats, are working on legislation to increase the minimum wage, but neither lawmaker's office heard from the White House about the issue before the president's speech, legislative aides said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday the president believes it is important to talk with members of Congress in the hope of reaching a compromise. "But he also believes that it is essential, and it is part of his responsibility as president elected by the whole nation, to take these issues out into the country, to present his agenda and his priorities to regular folks out there in states across the country," he said.
Republicans in Congress see little evidence the president wants to talk to them. "There's no obvious legislative strategy on their part,'' a Senate Republican leadership aide said. "It appears that their legislative strategy is to send the president out to all these campaign events. That's a campaign strategy and a political strategy."
More From The Wall Street Journal