WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to energize his sluggish second term, President Barack Obama vowed last night in his State of the Union address to sidestep Congress “whenever and wherever” necessary to narrow economic disparities between rich and poor. He unveiled an array of modest executive actions to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers and make it easier for millions of low-income Americans to save for retirement.
“America does not stand still and neither do I,” Obama declared in his prime-time address before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television.
Draped in presidential grandeur, Obama’s address served as the opening salvo in a midterm election fight for control of Congress that will quickly consume Washington’s attention. Democrats, seeking to cast Republicans as uncaring about the middle class, have urged Obama to focus on economic mobility and the gap between the wealthy and poor. His emphasis on executive actions was greeted with shouts of “Do it!” from many members of his party.
Following Obama’s address, Congressman John Tierney said in a statement, “Tonight, President Obama touched on many important challenges facing the middle class, including the hard truth that American families today are working harder than ever before only to fall further behind. Over the past year, Democrats have introduced several important proposals that would expand economic opportunity for middle class families across the country, only to be blocked by Republicans at every turn. I call on Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to join with Democrats and the majority of Americans who support immediate action on issues such as raising the minimum wage, providing women equal pay for equal work, increasing investments in job training, and making college more affordable and accessible for students across the country.”
Declaring 2104 a “year of action,” Obama also sought to convince an increasingly skeptical public that he still wields power in Washington even if he can’t crack through the divisions in Congress. Burned by a series of legislative failures in 2013, White House aides say they’re now redefining success not by what Obama can jam through Congress but by what actions he can take on his own.