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Obama to use SOTU to showcase executive action, will raise minimum wage for federal contracts

Moves expected on job training, unemployment

- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2014

President Obama will show his determination to sidestep Congress more often by announcing executive actions on job training and the long-term unemployed Tuesday night in his State of the Union address.

Mr. Obama will announce that he will sign an executive order setting the minimum wage for workers under new federal contracts at $10.10 an hour, the White House said Tuesday morning.

"A higher minimum wage for federal contract workers will provide good value for the federal government and hence good value for the taxpayer," the White House said. "Boosting wages will lower turnover and increase morale, and will lead to higher productivity overall."

Frustrated by congressional Republicans' resistance to his agenda, Mr. Obama is expected to outline steps he's taking unilaterally to improve the economy, including a pledge by major corporations not to discriminate in hiring decisions involving people who have been out of work for more than six months.

"That's a perfect example of what the president can do," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "The commitments that major employers make in this regard will, if fulfilled, be enormously helpful to this significant challenge."

Mr. Obama said earlier this month he was convening CEOs from across the country to persuade them to take "a second look" at hiring the long-term unemployed. Several companies now have signed a pledge with the White House, including Bank of America, Xerox, AT&T and Lockheed Martin, stating that they are "committed to inclusive hiring practices." The move was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The president's effort comes as he is pushing lawmakers to extend jobless benefits unconditionally for the long-term unemployed, legislation that would cost about $26 billion over a full year. The benefits expired in December for about 1.3 million people; lawmakers haven't agreed how long to extend the benefits and whether and how to pay for them.

In his address, Mr. Obama also is expected to announce executive actions on job training and retirement security.

"It's an acknowledgment of the political reality on Capitol Hill these days — you've got to find other ways to get stuff done," said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who formerly worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Since the start of the year, Mr. Obama has been warning lawmakers that he has "a pen and a phone" to take executive actions and marshal support outside Washington for his initiatives.

Following up on his speech, the White House revealed Monday that Mr. Obama will leave Washington on a four-state tour to promote his agenda, starting at a Costco in suburban Maryland. Over two days, he will also visit a steel mill in Pittsburgh and travel to Nashville, Tenn., and Milwaukee.

Presidential aides say Mr. Obama is frustrated by Congress, but he's also "optimistic" for growth this year, in part because Europe's economy has stabilized. But asked if the president believes America is on the "right track," Mr. Carney was careful not to say yes, aware that polls are showing nearly two-thirds of Americans feel the nation is on the "wrong track."

"He believes that [the] country is poised to grow stronger, to create more jobs, and in doing so to create more opportunity for middle-class Americans, who have been squeezed fiercely for a long time now," Mr. Carney said.

But a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 63 percent of Americans lack confidence in Mr. Obama's ability to make the right decisions for the country's future.

Insiders say the president also will lay out in his speech to Congress calls for legislation including an increase in the minimum wage, and for the House to complete immigration reform that has already passed the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Mr. Obama will emphasize themes of reversing the growing income gap in America, although many economists say his policies have contributed to the increasing divide between rich and poor.

A new poll released Monday found that a strong majority of Americans believe less government involvement would help to close the income gap in America.

The Rasmussen Reports survey said 59 percent of likely voters think less government would help to ease income inequality. Thirty-three percent of those polled believe more government involvement is needed.

Mr. Obama will call on Americans Tuesday night to help him in the fight to close the income gap with proposals such as raising the federal minimum wage.

In the poll, 69 percent of likely voters said income inequality is at least a somewhat serious problem. A plurality, 48 percent, said society overall would be less fair if the government got more involved in regulating the economy.

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