President Barack Obama spent the whole Labor Day weekend renewing his push to raise the minimum wage across the country first in his weekly address released on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2014 and then delivering a speech on the economy on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 at the 55th Laborfest at the Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In both his speech and weekly address the president touted the improving and recovering economy while kicking off the midterm election campaign period appealing for votes for Congressional Democrats.
The president's speech and address echoed many elements of his recent speeches on the economy and speeches earlier this year on his economic opportunity program. Still most of the media covering his speech noted that Obama was in campaign mode, attacking the GOP more than usual and fighting for the Democrats in Congress and their bid to retain control of the Senate. Obama's speech in Milwaukee was complete with a shout out to vote for the Democrats in the midterms, slyly stating; "And if I cared about these things, I'd also want more Democrats looking out for me. I'm just saying."
President Obama began his Labor Day weekend and economic push with the release of his weekly address entitled; "This Labor Day, Let's Talk About the Minimum Wage." In his address, Obama noted that the streak of economic growth, saying; "Over the past 53 months, our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs." President Obama again emphasized the job creation data from the July jobs report; "Last month, for the first time since 1997, we created more than 200,000 jobs for six straight months. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders worldwide have declared, two years running, that the number one place to invest isn't China - it's America." While in his speech at the Laborfest President Obama pointed that the economy is in fact better than when he campaigned at the same event in 2008; "I want everybody to understand - because you wouldn't always know it from watching the news - by almost every measure the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office."
Despite the recovering economy, President Obama sees an area that could help the economy improve and plight of lower income Americans in their dream to reach the middle class, raising the minimum wage. The policy push is fitting for Labor Day weekend, raising the minimum wage is a classic battle to improve the lot of the average worker. Obama explained this rational; "Raising the minimum wage would be one of the best ways to give a boost to working families. It would help around 28 million Americans from all walks of life pay the bills, provide for their kids, and spend that money at local businesses. And that grows the economy for everyone." President Obama wants to raise the minimum wage across the country to $10.10 an hour. Obama has been working with state governors to bypass Congress encouraging them to raise the minimum wage in their states, the president noted in his weekly address that 13 thirteen states have already done so.
Speaking at Laborfest President Obama focused not only on raising the minimum wage, but on other economic issues concerning working and middle class Americans. He listed his far ranging domestic policy accomplishments in energy, technology, health care as well as the economic bailouts that helped start the process of putting the country back on track. The president listed again the main elements of his economic opportunity program; "I want an economy where your hard work pays off with higher wages and higher income and fair pay for women and workplace flexibility for parents and affordable health insurance and decent retirement benefits. I'm not asking for the moon, I just want a good deal for American workers."
Earlier this year raising the minimum wage was President Obama's and the Democrats key legislative priority for the midterm election campaign. President Obama wants to remerge the fight over the minimum wage as a central campaign focus between the Democrats and the Republicans, with points with the voters mattering more than, if the legislation would actually help Americans. Raising the minimum wage was a central component of the president's economic opportunity to give Americans the chance to reach the middle-class.
When the minimum wage raise bill was finally put to a vote in the Senate Republicans led a filibuster blocking and preventing the Minimum Wage Fairness Act from advancing. On Wednesday morning, April 30, 2014 there was a
vote of 54 for and 42 votes against then bill when 60 votes were required for cloture and advancing the bill. Republicans still oppose raising the minimum wage because they believe it will lead to job losses and at the very least stifling of job creation. President Obama, Democrats and economists counter that claim rationalizing that will help millions of Americans. According to the OMB 500,000 jobs would be lost, but 16.5 million Americans would benefit, and 900,000 would be raised above the poverty level.
Back on Feb. 12, 2014 Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for new contracts for federal workers from $7.25 where it has been since 2009 to $10.10. The executive order President Obama signed also raises the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 an hour to $4.90. Only approximately 2 million workers will benefit from Obama’s executive order and it will only start to take effect on Jan. 1, 2015 and only for new and replacement contracts. President Obama still needs Congress if want to raise the minimum wage for the majority of Americans. With only two weeks left before Congress breaks to campaign for the midterm elections, President Obama's renewed push is a campaign ploy more than a push to get any legislation passed.
President Obama speech on Labor Day was more partisan than most of his speeches on the economy where he routinely blames the Republicans for not passing his legislative agenda and not caring about helping the middle class. Obama was in fine attack mode, saying; that "most of the policies I am talking about have two things in common. They are going to help more families get ahead. And Republicans who run our Congress oppose almost all of them." The president also insulted the GOP highlighting the difference between Republicans and Democrats in Congress; "Republicans in Congress love to say no. Those are just facts, the facts of life. They say no to everything."
Continuing, President Obama highlighted the economic policy differences between the parties. First he attacked the GOP, pointing out that "some folks who wanted to place an even bigger bet on top-down economics, the kind of economics that helped cause the crisis in the first place… this blind faith that maybe prosperity would finally trickle down on the rest of us if folks up at the top just kept on doing better and better." Then Obama put his and Democrats policies as superior than the GOP's; "I didn't run for president to double down on top-down economics. I ran for president because I believed in bottom-up economics. I believed in middle-out economics. I placed a bet on you… because of your hard work, because of what we've been through together, that bet is starting to pay off."
Obama emphasized how difficult it was to make progress with the GOP controlling the House of Representatives, stating "Every inch of it we have had to fight for. Every inch of it we've had to work against a lockstep opposition that is opposed to everything we do. Obama then joked "But it was worth it. Every gray hair is worth it. Every gray hair is worth it -- and at least I've still got some hair."
The president had a solution for the audience when they reacted to GOP's opposition to policies that would help them, "Don't boo, vote. Don't boo, vote. It is easy to boo, I want you to vote." Obama told the crowd that pressuring the Republicans in Congress is the only way to make them move; "I think eventually Congress is going to hear them. We'll break those folks down. We'll just stay on it. We'll just keep at it. the only thing more powerful than an idea whose time has come is when millions of people organizing around an idea whose time has come. Millions of people are voting for an idea whose time has come."
Obama, dressed down for the holiday weekend, appealed for the votes of those in attendance at Laborfest predominately union members by declaring that he himself would want to be part of a union for job protection if he was working in fields that have unions. Obama expressed; "If I were looking for a good job that lets me build some security for my job, I'd join a union. If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, I'd join a union...I'd want a union looking out for me." The president ended his revelation by asking for more votes for Democrats in the midterm elections; "and if I cared about these things I'd also want more Democrats looking out for me."
Obama concluded his weekly address about ensuring fairness Americans workers, making sure that they benefit also from the recovering economy; "That's how America built the greatest middle class the world has ever known. Not by making sure a fortunate few at the top are doing well, but by making sure that everyone who's willing to work hard and play by the rules can get ahead." Obama was equally optimistic concluding his Labor Day speech using a combination of his most used speech taglines; "Hope, the belief that there are better days ahead; the belief that together, we can build up our middle class and hand down something better to our kids -- that's what built America. And America's best days are still ahead. I believe it. You need to believe it, too. Let's get to work."
President Obama and the Democrats economic opportunity including raising the minimum wage as their key issue in the midterm election campaign. The Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is impossible at this point. Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent.
President Obama and Democrats have been forcing legislation on the Republicans without allowing compromises or added provisions that they know will fail just to highlight in this election year the difference between Republicans and Democrats and caring for the middle class. Despite public support for the initiative, raising the minimum wage has not energized the base and voters as much as the Democrats had hoped. President Obama and the Democrats will continue focusing on economic issues important to the Democratic base and immigration reform and attack, attack and mock the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November.
- Remarks by the President Barack Obama at Milwaukee Laborfest, Sept. 1, 2014
- President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: This Labor Day, Let’s Talk About the Minimum Wage, Aug. 30, 2014 -- Transcript | mp4 | mp3
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. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.