STATE OF THE UNION 2014:<br />
"Opportunity for All"

Will the president's minimum wage reform efforts work?

Opportunity for all. That was the theme of President Obama’s 6th State of the Union address--- delivered after a year filled with obstruction, shutdowns, and, yes, those web site glitches.  Last night’s speech began with the presumption that everyone watching was on the same page: The Republican Congress is never, ever going to vote for anything the president proposes, so instead of hitting them hard for their blockage, he sought out to tell the American people what he could get accomplished on his own.

The Obama administration is calling 2014 “the year of action,” as the Administration works tirelessly to get the president’s approval ratings out of the 40s and into the range where he can benefit Democrats running for reelection in the midterms. In order to do so, POTUS touted the message that his team and his party want to make the daily lives of Americans easier and out of touch Republicans do not. 

“The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress…when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people,” said President Obama. 

“America does not stand still – and neither will I.  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.”

The president’s 6th State of the Union was an attempt to win back pragmatic Americans who simply want to be able to work hard and move up the economic ladder. These are the so-called “average” voters who don’t much care for the news cycle and fights between partisans in Congress; They do care, however, about there being jobs that pay a living wage, a decent school where their children can get a good education, adequate and affordable housing, access to affordable healthcare so they won’t face bankruptcy when they get sick, and making their retirement years comfortable. 

“Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.  And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.”  Without the help of Congress, the president announced a variety of executive actions he will take including raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and job training programs across the country.  Both would help close the gap between the rich and the poor and resolve the issue of income inequality which President Obama has said is the “defining challenge of our time.”

“[I]n the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead.  And too many still aren’t working at all.” 

“Opportunity is who we are.  And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise... We know where to start: the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.”  And then the president outlined successes in high tech job hubs that are helping America lead the world in advanced technologies,” said the president. “Year after year the president has come out to promote a list of proposals only to be rebuffed by Congress.  Now with nothing left to lose, the president is on offense and looking forward to the coming Republican attack that the president is just too productive.

President Obama emphasized the fact that while opportunity may be what defines the United States, it simply isn’t a reality for all quite yet: “The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us.  But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.”

The high point of the speech came when the president addressed the Republican “war on women,” the GOP agenda that focuses on restricting access to reproductive health care and dismisses concerns over leveling the playing field for women. 

“Today, women make up about half our workforce.  But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.  That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work,” said Mr. Obama. “She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.  A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.  It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.  This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves.  Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”

And with just three more years left in his presidency, President Obama has made it clear that he plans on succeeding with or without Congress.