Provoking Republican lawmakers with an in-your-face vow to bypass Congress if necessary, President Obama said Tuesday night that he would use his executive authority on a dozen issues including income inequality and job training to spur “a year of action” for his stalled agenda.
“America does not stand still — and neither will I,” Mr. Obama said in the annual State of the Union address. “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.”
In the Republican response, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state said the GOP has a more hopeful vision for the nation that empowers people rather than the government.
The president embarked on his go-it-alone strategy even before he started his speech, with the White House announcing a dozen executive actions that the president already has taken or will take in the coming weeks, including a move to create a class of “starter” retirement savings accounts available through employers.
Another of his actions will raise the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 per hour to $10.10. The Labor Department said about 16,000 federal employees in 2012 received the federal minimum wage.
That move was intended to pressure lawmakers to pass a broader increase in the minimum wage for some 21 million workers.
“Give America a raise,” Mr. Obama challenged lawmakers.
The president’s push for executive actions immediately raised the ire of Republicans. Speaker John A. Boehner, who opposes a minimum wage increase on the grounds that it would slow economic growth, criticized the executive action.
“We’re just not going to sit here and let the president trample all over us,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “I have to remind him we do have a Constitution. And the Congress writes the laws, and the president’s job is to execute the laws faithfully. And if he tries to ignore this he’s going to run into a brick wall.”
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, accused Mr. Obama of “acting like a child.”
The president delivered his address coming off his worst year in office, in which his agenda was sidetracked by scandals and the error-filled launch of Obamacare. With lawmakers preparing for pivotal midterm elections that could further complicate the president’s agenda, Mr. Obama called for progress on unfinished business such as immigration reform.
“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”
Mr. Obama defended his beleaguered Obamacare health care law but didn’t mention the program’s troubled start in October or the continuing concerns about it. He warned the GOP not to attempt any more futile measures to repeal the law.
“The first 40 [bills] were plenty,” he said.
The president said he wants to use all the tools at his disposal to narrow the growing gap between rich and poor in America.