Last night, President Obama called for 2014 to be a “year of action,” asking Congress work with him to raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits, and make better educational opportunities available to all Americans. In the meantime, the president has acted alone, issuing executive orders, directing government bodies under his control, and creating teams of private and public citizens. But those tactics will only go so far, if Congress won’t act.
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“Mr. Obama can take small steps by using executive orders, presidential memorandums, and convening like-minded leaders on some of his agenda items. For big policy changes like immigration reform or raising the minimum wage, there’s little he can do without Congress,” writes Rebecca Kaplan at CBS News.
Economic inequality was a big theme in his state of the union address, and the president is acting immediately to raise the minimum wage for all federal workers to $10.10 an hour. He can accomplish this by executive order.
“Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”
The president asked Congress to restore unemployment benefits to the 1.6 million Americans who lost it when extended benefits expired in December. He is also asking CEOs to give long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at being hired. This week, Obama will meet with business leaders at the White House to “make that commitment real.”
“Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education,” said President Obama. “Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.”
The president has directed the Treasury to create a new savings vehicle, more similar to a savings bond than a traditional 401k. Called MyRA, it will promise a decent rate of return without the risk of investing in the stock market.
Vice President Joe Biden will lead a task force aimed at reforming job training programs. The goal will be to offer more on-the-job training, more apprenticeships, and more collaboration between community colleges and companies, to design training programs that prepare students for available jobs.
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