Promising “a year of action,” President Obama used his annual State of the Union address to chart a new path forward relying on his own executive authority. Here are some major takeaways from his fifth State of the Union:
‘You don’t have to wait for congress’
Obama made clear — both in terms of the policy proposals he outlined and the rhetoric he used to do it — that his focus for the next year will be on what he can do without Congress. “Whenever and wherever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I am going to do,” Obama said. Later, he urged “every mayor, governor and state legislator in America … you don’t have to wait for Congress to act.”
Obama says He will ‘not stand still’
“America does not stand still and neither will I,” Obama said. Among his executive orders:
• Minimum wage: Federal contractors must raise the minimum wage for their low-paid workers. He challenged Congress to do the same for all workers.
• Retirement savings plan: The MyRA program, which will open by the end of 2014, would let Americans open individual retirement accounts that invest in government bonds. They could start with as little as $25 and contribute $5 per pay period after that. The principal, funded with post-tax contributions, would be protected and could be withdrawn without penalties.
• Training and apprenticeships: Review the federal job-training system and work with companies to increase apprenticeships. Days later, Obama announced a $150-million grant program for nonprofits working to connect the long-term unemployed with companies and develop interviewing and networking that could put them back in the workforce. Applications will be available in February; awards will be made in mid-2014.
• Unemployment: About 300 businesses — including Best Buy and U.S. Bancorp — have signed a document promising not to discriminate against job applicants solely because they have been out of work for extended stretches. They’ll review recruiting procedures, encourage all qualified candidates to apply and share information about hiring the long-term unemployed within their companies. Read the list of participating companies: http://tinyurl.com/o43yukq.
success based on ‘the scope of our dreams’
A little flattery goes a long way. Despite the fact that relations between Obama and Congress are bad and won’t be getting any better anytime soon, the president showed a deftness he either didn’t possess or chose not to wield in years past when he praised House Speaker John Boehner as an example of the American dream. “Here in America, our success should not depend on an accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams,” Obama said. “That’s what drew our forebears here ... [that’s] how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House.” Cue the huge, sustained applause, and a surprised Boehner.
emphasis on overhaul of immigration
Obama’s rhetoric — guarded, hopeful, insistent — on immigration reform suggests that he believes there is a possibility of getting something major-ish done on the issue this year. “Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted,” Obama said. “I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.”
health care ‘helping millions of americans’
A health care showdown. If you were wondering whether Obama would back down on highlighting the good that he believes has come from the Affordable Care Act, you got your answer — in a major way. “Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that is already helping millions of Americans,” Obama scolded, repeating the 40-votes line for emphasis. Top Republican congressional aides immediately took to Twitter, insisting they welcomed a fight on health care.