Obama lays out go-it-alone approach

US president in his State of the Union address announces actions that do not require congressional approval.

    Obama lays out go-it-alone approach
    Obama calls on Congress to pass a bill to increase the minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour [Reuters]

    President Barack Obama will lay out his strategy for getting around a divided Congress starting with a wage hike for federal contract workers in a State of the Union speech on Tuesday that reflects scaled-back legislative ambitions after a tough year.

    Obama will make clear in his 9pm EST (02:00 GMT) address that he is willing to bypass US lawmakers and go it alone in some areas by announcing a series of executive actions that do not require congressional approval.

    The White House said Obama would announce that he is issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers with new contracts.

    In his address, Obama will also call on Congress to pass a bill to increase the federal minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 and index that to inflation.

    Executive actions

    The executive order raising the level for federal contract workers, which applies to new contracts or existing contracts in which terms are being changed, will take effect at the beginning of next year, with janitors and construction workers among the beneficiaries.

    Issuing the order allows the Democratic president to bypass Congress, where Republicans oppose a broad increase in the minimum wage. But liberals felt Obama's move did not go far enough, arguing that he should have extended the wage hike to existing federal contracts.

    "This action, while a step forward, suggests he may still be unwilling to take the fighting stance necessary to deliver the big wins over growing inequality that our country desperately needs," said Jim Dean, chairman of the liberal advocacy group Democracy for America.

    White House officials said Obama would also announce new executive actions on retirement security and job training to help middle-class workers expand economic opportunity.

    "What you'll hear in the speech tonight is very concrete, realistic proposals as it relates to wages, as it relates to education, as it relates to training, high-tech manufacturing, retirement security - those are the things that he's focused on," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on NBC's "Today" show.

    With three years left in office, Obama has effectively reduced for now his ambitions for grand legislative actions, having already seen many proposals blocked in a Congress in which Democrats control the Senate and Republicans run the House of Representatives.

    Immigration policy overhaul

    Obama is expected to renew his appeal for a long-stalled overhaul of US immigration policy that has been stymied by congressional Republicans. He also will promote his signature healthcare law, four months after its disastrous initial rollout.

    White House officials said the president would try to work with Congress to accomplish his agenda, but would also try to advance it through executive actions if necessary.

    "We will continue to call on Congress - both sides of the aisle - to come up with new and fresh ideas for how we can grow our economy and create opportunities for the American people, but we aren't going to stop at that," White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said on MSNBC'S "Morning Joe" show.

    Congressional Republicans expressed skepticism.

    House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, said that while Obama may have the authority to raise the minimum wage on federal contracts, the impact will be "close to zero" because it will only affect future contracts.

    He also said an across-the-board increase in the minimum wage could harm the economy.

    "When you raise the cost of something, you get less of it," Boehner told a news conference after a party meeting near the US Capitol.

    "And we know from increases in the minimum wage in the past, that hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans have lost their jobs."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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