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Obama focuses on economic opportunity through executive orders in weekly address

For the second week in a row President Barack Obama centered his weekly address on the economic opportunity program he introduced in his State of Union Address, outlining both the economic initiatives and his "go-it-alone strategy" that passes legislation through executive orders and memorandums bypassing Congress in his weekly address released Saturday morning, Feb. 8, 2014. The President highlighted four instances where through executive actions he fulfilling his promise for "year of action" for the economy. The initiatives mentioned are all part of the greater economic program, one each relating jobs training, retirement savings, education and helping the unemployed find jobs. Two of the initiatives were stops on his post-State of the Union economic opportunity tour, and previously cited in his Feb. 1 Weekly Address "Restoring Opportunity for All."

President Barack Obama announces his ConnectED education program bringing broadband and wireless internet access to 99% of America's schools by 2017 at a visit to Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland, Feb. 4, 2014
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Reiterated the message of his economic opportunity program in his weekly address entitled "Expanding Opportunity for the American People" President Obama also brought up his State of the Union Address delivered on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Obama explained; "In my State of the Union Address, I talked about the idea of opportunity for all. Opportunity is the idea at the heart of this country - that no matter who you are or how you started out, with hard work and responsibility, you can get ahead."

President Obama again stated the economic opportunity program will make the middle class more accessible to low-income Americans that have been left behind after the recession although the economy has improved. As Obama explained; "Because while our economy has been growing for four years, and those at the top are doing better than ever, average wages have barely budged. Too many Americans are working harder than ever just to get by, let alone get ahead - and that's been true since long before the recession hit. We've got to reverse those trends. We've got to build an economy that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few. And the opportunity agenda I laid out last week will help us do that."

The President took the chance to outline again the core components of his economic program, using the succinct summary he has been using in all speeches on the issue. Obama recounted; "It's an agenda with four parts. Number one: more new jobs. Number two: training folks with the skills to fill those jobs. Number three: guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education. And number four: making sure that hard work pays off, with wages you can live on, savings you can retire on, and health insurance that's there when you need it." The weekly address also included the executive action used in implementing each part of his quadripartite agenda.

For the past month since he announced at the start of the year that 2014 will be "a year of action" President Obama has been lamenting that "I want to work with Congress on this agenda where I can." Obama then goes on to explain why he cannot and Americans cannot wait for Congress to pass legislation to get the relief or boost they need; "But in this year of action, whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, I will. I've got a pen and a phone - a pen to take executive action, and a phone to rally citizens and business leaders who are eager to create new jobs and new opportunities. And we've already begun."

At the General Electric Waukesha Gas Engines Facility, in Wisconsin and the third stop on his post State of the Union tour on Thursday, Jan. 30 Obama spoke about technical job training program that will include; apprenticeships and partnerships between community college and employers. Obama explained; "In Wisconsin, I ordered an across-the-board reform of our training programs to train folks with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now." There Obama signed an executive order to review all federal job training programs, and Vice President Joe Biden will be in charge of the initiative.

On the President first day of his economic opportunity tour on Jan 29 Obama spoke at the United States Steel Corporation Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania about the creation of a retirement savings plan called myRA standing for "my retirement account." The President them signed a memorandum creating program allows for workers to add small amounts to the account until they transfer it into an IRAs. Obama described; "In Pittsburgh, I directed the Treasury to create "my-RA," a new way for working Americans, even if you're not wealthy, to start your own retirement savings."

Keeping his promise to ensure ever child gets the education they deserve, President Obama highlighted his ConnectED program on Tuesday, Feb. 4 at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland. Obama discussed the event in his weekly address, saying; "In Maryland, I rallied the leaders of some of America's biggest tech companies to help us make sure all our kids have access to high-speed internet and up-to-date technology to help them learn the skills they need for the new economy." The program will make sure that 99 percent of American schools will be connected to high speed, broad and wireless internet by 2017.

The Federal Communications Commission will provide $2 billion in funds for the project, while the President announced that high tech computer and internet providers including Apple, Microsoft, Autodesk, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint among others have pledged an additional $750 million for the program. Apple is providing iPads; Microsoft is offering discounted Windows access, Autodesk is providing 3-D software, while AT&T, Verizon and Sprint will donate wireless internet services. The money will initially bring high speed and wireless internet to according to USA Today "15,000 schools and 20 million students."

President Obama expressed in his remarks about the initiative; "In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools." Obama chose to speak at Buck Lodge Middle School because it is a school where technology is a focus, and each student is given an iPad to work on. Prior to his speech, the President visited a seventh grade math class that uses computers in their curriculum. While there Obama tried out filming students and his security and press corps entourage on an iPad. His first effort was unsuccessful after failing to press record, which a student pointed out.

In effort to help the long-term jobless the President Obama urged CEOs of 20 major companies to not "discriminate" and give them an equal chance and hire those unemployed for a long time at a Friday, Jan. 31 White House event hosted with Vice President Joe Biden. President Obama recounted; "And at the White House, I brought together business leaders who've committed to helping more unemployed Americans find work, no matter how long they've been looking. And I directed the federal government to make hiring decisions the same way - based on whether applicants can do the job, not when they last had a job." The President signed an executive memorandum that would require the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term jobless during the hiring process.

At this moment there are 4 million Americans that have been unemployed for over six months and those are the ones most affected and that President Obama wants to help, it is also an effort to compensate for Congress not extending unemployment benefits to the long-term jobless. First President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with the CEOs of those 20 companies at the White House prior to the event and so far a total of 300 major companies and corporations have "signed on" to the President's initiative. It was the third program President Obama signed into law without Congress since his State of the Union Address delivered on Tuesday, Jan 28.

President Obama concluded his address reiterating his promise to take action himself to implement his economic program, because that is the fastest and most efficient implementation, taking a jab at the Congressional Republicans. Obama stated; "So when you hear me talk about using my pen and my phone to make a difference for middle class Americans and those working to get into the middle class, that's what I mean. And I'm going to keep asking students and parents and business leaders to help - because there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments, ready to move this country forward, and determined to restore the founding vision of opportunity for all."


Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.

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