Obama stresses ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion

State of the Union speech calls for wide-rang­ing ini­tia­tives

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By DAVID FAHRENTHOLD and DAVID NAKA­MURA

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sought Tues­day to re­store pub­lic con­fi­dence and trust in his pres­i­dency af­ter a dispir­it­ing year, pledg­ing to use his White House au­thor­ity with new force to ad­vance an agenda that Congress has largely failed

to sup­port.

In his fifth prime-time State of the Union ad­dress, Obama chal­lenged law­mak­ers to work with him to achieve break­throughs on large-scale ini­tia­tives to over­haul im­mi­gra­tion laws and pro­vide more ben­e­fits to Amer­i­can work­ers, in­clud­ing a higher min­i­mum wage and ex­ten­sion of longterm un­em­ploy­ment insurance.

But he also sketched out more than a dozen ways in which he in­tends to use ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers to try to boost the econ­omy, a recog­ni­tion by the pres­i­dent that he is run­ning out of time to achieve his goals in the face of har­den­ing Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion.

“What I of­fer tonight is a set of con­crete, prac­ti­cal pro­pos­als to speed up growth, strengthen the mid­dle class, and build new lad­ders of op­por­tu­nity into the mid­dle class. Some re­quire Con­gres­sional ac­tion, and I’m ea­ger to work with all of you. But Amer­ica does not stand still — and nei­ther will I,” Obama planned to say, ac­cord­ing to ex­cerpts re­leased ahead of the speech by the White House. “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 course of his speech, es­ti­mated to last about an hour in the House cham­ber, Obama laid out what aides de­scribed as an “op­ti­mistic” view of where the na­tion is headed, call­ing for a “year of ac­tion” just months af­ter the pub­lic grew disen­chanted with Wash­ing­ton amid a 17-day par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down last fall.

Obama’s tricky task, though, was to con­vince a na­tion that had grown less trust­ful of his lead­er­ship that he is still able to break through the par­ti­san grid­lock to make mean­ing­ful im­prove­ment in peo­ple’s lives. For the first time on the eve of a State of the Union ad­dress, more Amer­i­cans rate his per­for­mance neg­a­tively than pos­i­tively, with 50 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing.

To that end, Obama an­nounced a list of ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions that he will pur­sue in the com­ing months aimed at slow­ing the widen­ing in­come gap among Amer­i­can fam­i­lies, a ac­tions which the White House has called a top pri­or­ity for the year. Among them were plans to raise the min­i­mum wage for fed­eral con­tract work­ers from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2015, cre­ate a new gov­ern­ment-backed pri­vate re­tire­ment sav­ings plan and speed up im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pre­vi­ously an­nounced pro­gram to con­nect schools to broad­band wire­less.

White House aides de­scribed the ini­tia­tives as hav­ing the po­ten­tial to help mil­lions of Amer­i­cans gain more take home pay, job train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion. One se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial pointed to pre­vi­ous ex­am­ples of Obama us­ing ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion to de­fer de­por­ta­tions of young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought to the coun­try by their par­ents as chil­dren and to strengthen en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions as ex­am­ples of pro­grams that “were big­ger any­thing Congress passed in the last two years aside from the bud­get.”

But Repub­li­cans quickly de­nounced the new pro­pos­als as small pota­toes, and ac­cused the pres­i­dent of fail­ing to work through the leg­isla­tive process to achieve more sweep­ing ini­tia­tives.

“I sus­pect the pres­i­dent has the au­thor­ity to raise the min­i­mum wage for those deal­ing with fed­eral con­tracts,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tues­day, af­ter Obama’s plans were make pub­lic. “But let’s un­der­stand some­thing: This af­fects not one cur­rent con­tract; it only af­fects fu­ture con­tracts with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. And so I think the ques­tion is, ‘How many peo­ple, Mr. Pres­i­dent, will this ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion ac­tu­ally help?’ I sus­pect the an­swer is some­where close to zero.”

Asked about Boehner’s com­ments, White House aides ac­knowl­edged the pro­gram per­tains to fu­ture con­tracts and they were un­able to quan­tify how many could be helped by the pro­gram in the com­ing year.

Boehner said the White House should ap­prove the long-de­layed Key­stone XL oil sands pipe­line, which would move oil from Canada into the United States, which Repub­li­cans and la­bor unions have said would cre­ate thou­sands of jobs. Obama has said he is await­ing a State Depart­ment re­view of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

In the of­fi­cial Repub­li­can Party re­sponse to Obama’s ad­dress, Rep. Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R-Wash., faulted Obama’s ap­proach to the econ­omy. Though the un­em­ploy­ment rate fell last month to 6.7 per­cent — the low­est level in more than five years — the drop was pow­ered mostly by a grow­ing num­ber of un­em­ployed peo­ple who stopped look­ing for work.

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