Taking to the floor of the House Chambers Tuesday night, President Obama gave his fifth State of the Union address and did so with force. As the approval of both the president and Congress continues to stay at uncomfortable lows, President Obama needed to make an impact and only time will tell if he did.
President Obama came out of the gate with the popular theme of 'income inequality." Among the many highlights included the announcement that President Obama would be issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour. The president also called on Congress to pass a bill that would increase the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour which would than be indexed to inflation. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, over 600 economists agree that the minimum wage needs to be increased to $10.10 an hour in order to boost the economy. President Obama also channeled the majority of the American people who approve of a minimum wage increase.
"Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn't involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise."
Even though the economy has been on the right track, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 68 percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track compared to only 28 percent who believe the country is on the right path. With the stock market reaching record highs and the unemployment rate reaching a 5 year low of 6.7 percent, too many low and middle income Americans are still unhappy with the current state of the economy.
President Obama also continued his theme of the economy, but put a heavy focus on women which drew a loud applause from the crowd.
"Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds."
While making money now is important, it's the future that worries many Americans. The president pointed out that as pensions decline in the work force, Americans often don't have anything other than their Social Security check to cover the bills once they retire. President Obama announced his new proposal "MyRa" which would give Americans another way to save for their retirement.
"Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn't enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn't help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans."
President Obama also touted the recent success of his signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as "Obamacare." Despite a rocky roll out, more than 9 million Americans have now signed up for health care insurance via the new health care law with either private plans or through states participating in the Medicaid expansion.
"Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans. More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage. And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors."
President Obama took his speech in another direction with the theme of "the spirit of citizenship." The President spoke about standing up for voting rights and taking a stand against gun violence. Speaking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president hit it home.
"Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over."
President Obama continued to speak about foreign policy and made it known that he will not engage in any new wars unless it was absolutely necessary. The controversial NSA program was also mentioned as the president noted he "will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated." Topics such as Iran and the recent deal struck to limit their ability to create a nuclear weapon was also spoken about and the president threatened to veto any sanctions that could jeopardize current progress.. Sticking to one of his original plans as a candidate in 2008, the president tapped into the past and once again called for the prison at Guantanamo Bay to be closed.
As the State of the Union address came to a close, President Obama spoke about Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg who was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan but following hard work and his never say die attitude is alive today.
President Obama rolled the dice with the hopes that Republicans and Democrats can put their differences aside and do what is best for the country moving forward. He stated "if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach." If the president is right, the future for the United States looks very bright, but that is a very big "if."
Click here to read the White House transcript of President Obama's 2014 State of the Union address.