Although President Barack Obama was spending a seven-day trip to Asia focusing on foreign policy with stops in Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines from April 22 to 29, 2014 the president decided to focus his weekly address on domestic policy. President Obama's weekly address entitled "Congress Needs to Act on Minimum Wage" released Saturday morning, April 26 urged Congress to pass legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to 10.10. Raising the minimum wage is an economic priority of Obama's and part of his economic opportunity program meant to help Americans to have the opportunity to reach the middle class.
A day before on Friday, April 25, 2014 Roll Call reported that the @BarackObama Twitter account urged the House of Representatives to pass the unemployment benefits extension bill, writing; "In tough times, we don't abandon American families. Tell Congress to make it right: http://ofa.bo/eYo #RenewUI" The Twitter account @BarackObama is operated by "Organizing for Action" the president's advocacy organization for his policy agenda. The account spent the weekend pushing President Obama's important domestic policy initiatives. In addition to passing the unemployment benefits extension, they have been pushing immigration reform, health care, and the topic of the president's weekly address raising the minimum wage. The account tweeted on Saturday, April 26; "'It's time for $10.10. It's time to give America a raise.'-President Obama http://ofa.bo/aZj #RaiseTheWage.""
The Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill on April 7, 2014. Since then the Republicans in the House of Representatives have been considering adding job creating provisions to the bill to make it acceptable to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH so that he would put the bill to a vote. At this point the speaker will not put the bill to a House vote without any added provisions. At the GOP leadership press conference on Thursday, April 10 Boehner had asked for the White House and Obama administration to let him know which provisions would be acceptable. The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded at the daily press briefing on Monday, April 21, 2014 that the White House refuses and objects for the House adding any additional provisions to the unemployment benefits extension bill and President Obama will not negotiate on any concessions on the unemployment benefits bill he wants the House GOP to pass the Senate bill as is.
The most popular provision choice, by the House GOP at this moment to bring the bill to a House vote is the "Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act" (HR 803) sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. and passed by the House in March 2013. Senator Dean Heller, R-NV, one of the Senate co-sponsors and authors of the unemployment benefits extension bill is negotiating for the Senate with the House, agrees that combining job training would be good a fit and he supports that idea just as long as the unemployment benefits extension gets passed. The SKILLS Act "streamlines" job training programs, and would provide job training to 3.7 million Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks.
President Obama's weekly address on Saturday focused on on the minimum wage and resembled every previous speech and address he has delivered on the issue, describing his economic opportunity program, urging the Congress to pass legislation, and attacking the Congressional Republicans for not supporting his policies. The economic opportunity program consists of creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and fair wages including equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage. Since delivering his State of the Union address in January the president has been pushing Congress to raise the minimum wage. Obama wants to lift the wage up from $7.25 to $10.10 for all American workers by 2016, and continued to urge Congress to pass legislation.
Obama has been highlighting businesses that have taken the initiative themselves to raise their minimum wage. So far Obama has praised Costco, the Gap, Cafe Beauregard in New Britain, and Pi Pizzeria in St Louis, Missouri and Zingerman's Deli in Michigan. Now Obama highlighted Desi Shack, a privately owned restaurant, whose owner "plan[s] to lift wages for her employees at both her restaurants to at least $10 an hour by the end of this year."
The president has followed through with advocating for a year of economic action by raising the minimum wage for federal contractors through an executive order on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 12. The president again recounted; "That's why, two months ago, I issued an Executive Order requiring workers on new federal contracts to be paid a fair wage of at least ten dollars and ten cents an hour."
The proposed Senate bill to raise the minimum wage is sponsored by two Democrats, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and California Representative George Miller. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV had promised the president he would but the bill to a vote in March and still the Senate has not voted on the measure, but are expected when the Congress returns on April 28 from their two-week recess. The president expressed how much passing the bill would "make a difference for every American." Obama realizes there is just so much he can do through executive actions and without Congress. The president emphasized that "Congress needs to do something. And America knows it. Right now, there's a bill that would boost America's minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents an hour."
President Obama explained the benefits to the economy and for workers if the minimum wage was raised; "lift[ing] wages for nearly 28 million Americans across the country. 28 million." The president claims Republicans oppose the minimum wage because they believe only the youth work in minimum wage jobs when in reality they average age 35 and are raising families. Obama reiterated this point, saying; "we're not just talking about young people on their first job. The average minimum wage worker is 35 years old. They work hard, often in physically demanding jobs."
There is wide support in the country for raising the minimum wage, not just from Democrats, but also Republicans. The president tried to emphasize this hoping it would help the Republicans in Congress to also support ad pass a minimum wage raise. Obama described; "While not all of us always see eye to eye politically, one thing we overwhelmingly agree on is that nobody who works full-time should ever have to live in poverty. That's why nearly three in four Americans support raising the minimum wage." CBS News brought up a Quinnipiac survey from January when the president first announced the initiative in his State of the Union Address, 71 percent of Americans in general support the raising the minimum wage, and a majority Republicans at 52 percent support the raise.
The bill to raise the minimum wage would face opposition in the Republican House of Representatives from the Speaker Boehner, who has numerous times stated that raising the minimum wage will result in less jobs for the lower income bracket. The Republican Congress is reluctant citing an Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) recent report stating jobs will be loss as a result of a raise. President Obama recognizes the major obstacle to this raise is the Republicans in Congress, declaring; "The problem is, Republicans in Congress don't support raising the minimum wage. Some even want to get rid of it entirely."
Although Congress has yet to raise the minimum wage Obama has been pursuing two alternatives to bypass Congress, he signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers, and has been urging state governors to raise the minimum wage. Since his first call to raise the minimum wage in 2013 State of the Union Address, six states have raised the minimum wage, including; "California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island." Now 14 other states are considering do the same. In March, Connecticut raised the minimum wage to $10.10 the highest in the country. Obama stated; "That's why this fight is so important. That's why several states, counties, and cities are going around Congress to raise their workers' wages. That's why I'll keep up this fight."
President Obama again explained the purpose and goal of his economic opportunity program, saying; "Because we know that our economy works best when it works for all of us - not just a fortunate few. We believe we do better when everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead. That's what opportunity is all about."
The president mocked the Congressional Republican's 50 plus votes they passed repealing the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, a waste of time. Obama chastised the House GOP, stating the "Republicans have voted more than 50 times to undermine or repeal health care for millions of Americans. They should vote at least once to raise the minimum wage for millions of working families."
President Obama concluded his remarks urging Americans to push their Senators and Congressional representatives to vote in favor of the raising the minimum wage. Obama asked; "If you agree with us, we could use your help…. If a Republican in Congress represents you, tell him or her it's time to give the politics a rest for a while and do something to help working Americans." The president finished off with his tagline to push this particular policy initiative, saying; "It's time for 'ten-ten.' It's time to give America a raise."
Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity and 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 virtually 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. However, raising the minimum wage has not energized the base and voters as much as the Democrats had hoped. President Obama will no doubtably continue on closer to the elections with similar addresses, boasting of his administration's accomplishments, focusing on economic issues important to the Democratic base and included in the Obama budget and attack, attack and mock the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November.
- President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Congress Needs to Act on Minimum Wage, April 26, 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. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.