President Barack Obama’s fifth official State of the Union address comes at a pivotal moment in his presidency.
His approval ratings are at their lowest points entering a new year in his tenure. In recent U.S. history, only Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was on shakier footing entering his sixth year in office. The two words that every president fears — “lame duck” — have been thrown around with increasing frequency lately.
On top of it all, he’s entering an election year that could make his most of the items on a still-ambitious agenda next to impossible.
That’s why many Democrats are cheering Obama’s expected theme in Tuesday night’s speech — addressing the so-called “opportunity gap.”
“We’re excited about tonight’s speech,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told a small group of reporters on Capitol Hill earlier Tuesday. “We think it’s going to be a call to action for a ‘Year of Action’ that will invigorate the debate here and, I hope, to the American people.”
Perhaps the biggest policy announcement Obama will make in his speech Tuesday night is an executive order to raise the minimum wage for new federal contract workers. The hike ensures that all federal workers employed under future government contracts do not make less than $US10.10 an hour.
The minimum-wage hike fits in with two larger themes of Obama’s address. The first is his push for a broad federal minimum-wage hike to the same level. The second is that he will make it known he will work around Congress when he feels it is necessary.
“There are some things we can do right now to get the economy going,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member on the House Budget Committee.
In addition to the minimum-wage hike, some of those steps Obama is expected to highlight include the administration’s creation of a pledge not to discriminate against potential employees based on how long they’ve been unemployed; “economic promise zones,” which Obama announced last month; and revamping early-childhood education, which Democrats think could be a winning issue ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
According to at least one new poll, Obama’s new strategy to get things done could find support with the public. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 52% said they supported the power of the president to “in some cases to bypass Congress and take action by executive order to accomplish their administration’s goals.” Only 46% opposed.
“This all comes in the context of a Congress that is the most gridlocked in American history,” freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said Tuesday.
“We just had the least-productive year in American history, since we’ve been keeping record. The president should be trying to figure out how he can try to make government productive.”
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