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State of the Union Address Obama vows executive orders for economic opportunity

One of the major themes of President Barack Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address delivered on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 was that the President will not wait for Congress to pass necessary economic legislation; he will issue an executive order to get the job done to ensure "a year of action." Putting that promise to the test Obama has already announced that he will raise the minimum was for federal contract workers from $7.25 to $10.10 and asked Congress to follow suit and raise the minimum wage for all workers. The President's 65-minute State of the Union focused heavily on the economy, with an emphasis on economic opportunity, inequality and mobility, declaring; "Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise."

President Barack Obama delivers his 2014 State of the Union Address, Capitol Hill, Washington, Jan. 28, 2014; Obama promised to use executive orders to advance his economic opportunity program
Charles Dharapak / Associated Press

Raising the minimum wage is part of President Obama's "economic opportunity" program that will make the middle class more accessible to low-income Americans that have been left behind after the recession although the economy has improved. Obama expressed in his address; "Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled."

The economic program the President introduced was sweeping covering education from pre-K to university, job training, manufacturing hubs, energy independence, tax reform, retirement funds, tax credits, unemployment benefits overhaul and immigration reform all centered on job creation and granting Americans "opportunity." As Obama explained; "The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all. Our job is to reverse these trends." The program would bridge the widening gap between the rich or poor including pay equity, "equal pay for equal work," which according to Obama would "do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode," and of course raising the minimum wage.

President Obama's across-the-board economic opportunity plan would "make this a year of action." Obama continued; "That's what most Americans want - for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all - the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead."

As the President declared, to adavance and accomplish his program he will exert the power of executive orders with Congress passing legislation an afterthought in his plan; "What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require Congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still -- and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

President Obama asked state governments to raise the minimum wage without Comgress passing a raise for the whole country, stating; "To every mayor, governor and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour - because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty."

President Obama wants Congress to raise the minimum wage across the board based on a bill introduced and sponsored by Democrats Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. George Miller of California, the bill links raising the minimum wage with inflation and the cost of living. President Obama explained; "Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 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."

The White House issued a statement about the President's decision to raise the minimum wage without Congress; "The president is using his executive authority to lead by example and will continue to work with Congress to finish the job for all Americans by passing the (congressional) bill." While White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaking about the State of the Union and the President advancing his economic program afterwards, stated; "You can be sure that the president fully intends to use his executive authority - to use the unique powers of the office - to make progress on economic opportunity."

President Obama will use executive orders also to implement a job training program headed by Vice President Joe Biden, which Obama stated is "an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now." The program would "make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs."

President Obama also plans to unveil a plan in order to keep his promise and help the long term jobless, since an attempt to extend unemployment benefits stalled earlier this month in the Senate when both sides could come to an agreement about paying for the bill's extension. Obama's plan according to the White House will "help more job seekers find work." President Obama also renewed urging Congress to extend the benefits by asking them to "give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance. They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game."

The Republicans gave two sponsored responses to President Obama's State of the Union Address. The official Republican Response delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah gave the Tea Party Express' response. Both found one point in common with the President that there is a "gap" and "inequality" in "opportunities" for Americans. Rep. McMorris Rogers stated; "The president talks a lot about income inequality. But the real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality… And with this administration's policies, that gap has become far too wide." While Sen. Lee admitted that "Americans who may feel they have been forgotten by both political parties… But where does this new inequality come from? From government." However, the solutions and road map the President and the Republicans presented differed widely.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH responded to Obama's plan to raise the minimum raise at a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at the Capitol. Boehner stated raising wages will backfire; "We know from increases in the minimum wage in the past that hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans have lost their jobs, and so the very people the president purports to help are the ones who are going to get hurt by this. When you look at African-Americans and Hispanics, they're the people who never have a chance to get on the economic ladder. It's bad policy, and it will hurt the very people the president purports to want to help."

Speaker Boehner thinks that Obama executive orders will have minimum affect; "The question is, how many people, Mr. President, will this executive action actually help? Suspect the answer is somewhere close to zero." Still the Republicans are against the President so liberally using the orders to enact legislation when according to the Constitution it is Congress' job; "But we're going to watch very closely because there's a Constitution that we all take an oath to, including him, and following that Constitution is the basis for our republic and we shouldn't put that in jeopardy." Boehner promised the Republican will delved into the matter at their annual retreat; "There are options available to us. We're going to have a discussion about that as well at our retreat."

President Obama has been clear he will use executive orders to pass his economic agenda when he can, if Congress fails to act. Previously in his weekly address on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 entitled "Making 2014 a Year of Action to Expand Opportunities for the Middle Class," Obama promised; "Where Congress isn't acting, I'll act on my own" even though he did express "I want to work with Congress this year on proven ways to create jobs, like building infrastructure and fixing our broken immigration system."

Supporting the fact that President Obama will make it clear that the President will resort to executive orders to bypass Congress if they balk at his proposed legislation was Pfeiffer in the email to White House supporters sent Saturday, Jan. 25; "In this year of action, the president will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way. But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress. President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American - business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country - in the project to restore opportunity for all."

A CNN/ORC International poll conducted after the President's address determined that more or less that Americans had a "very positive" reaction to the speech, at 44 percent, but it was far less than the 53 percent from last year. The same percentage that positively viewed President Obama's speech is almost the same as his approval according to a USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll, which sits at 43 percent.

The President plans two day trips to sell his economic agenda from his State of Union on Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 29 and 30. On Wednesday, Obama will speak at the Costco store in Lanham, Maryland, and then a "steel plant" in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. Following on Thursday the President will speak at a General Electric "gas engine facility" in Waukesha, Wisconsin and finally end his trip speaking McGavock High School in Nashville, Tennessee.


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