WASHINGTON – The year of action. That’s what 2014 is all about for President Barack Obama and it was the underlying theme of Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
“Let’s make this a year of action,” Obama said. “That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”
It’s an optimistic goal for a President with a 43 percent approval rating entering his sixth year in office and facing a determined opposition otherwise known as the House of Representatives.
Speaking from the lectern inside the House chamber for his fifth State of the Union address, Obama outlined his goals and priorities that included economic opportunity, energy and education.
Understanding the reality and the challenges before him, Obama announced plans to accomplish parts of his agenda without Congress.
“… 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 said during his speech.
In other words, with up to 535 members of Congress sitting in the same room during his speech, the President told them that he’s going to go around them.
One way is by using his pen to sign executive orders, unilateral presidential directives.
President Barack Obama called Tuesday in his State of the Union address for Republicans to stop trying to undermine his 2010 health care reform law passed with no GOP support, saying “the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles.”
He continued by saying, “Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans,” Obama said.
“The first 40 were plenty. … We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.”
– Obama said he will continue working to reduce gun violence, saying “I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”
– He also said “a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies” after 2014 if the Afghan government signs a security agreement, adding that the mission would involve training and assisting Afghan forces as well as continuing counterterrorism operations against “remnants of al Qaeda.”
– “America must move off a permanent war footing,” Obama said, noting he “imposed prudent limits on the use of drones” and that he will work with Congress to reform surveillance programs disclosed by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
– Obama called for Congress to lift restrictions on transferring terrorism suspects from the Guantanamo Bay prison and close it in 2014 “because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.”
– The President said that international negotiations on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon “will be difficult” and “they may not succeed,” adding that “we are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies.”
He said that “the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away.”
– Obama reiterated that he will veto any new sanctions bill from Congress that would derail talks on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, adding that “for the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”
Obama called for more government support to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure but warned he was willing to go it alone.
“I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible,” he said.
The Republican Party has balked at the idea.
Speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans are “just not going to sit here and let the President trample all over us.”
Separately, the President also unveiled a proposal for a new type of account that allows Americans to save for retirement.
Obama said he will order the U.S. Treasury to create a new federal retirement savings account called MyRA, a savings bond that he added would guarantee “a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.”
It will be available to those whose jobs don’t offer traditional retirement savings programs, he said.
Additionally, Obama called for:
– Eliminating $4 billion in tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industries “that don’t need it” and instead “invest more in fuels of the future that do.
– Women who make 77 cents for each dollar a man earns to get equal pay for equal work, adding “that is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”
– Setting new fuel standards for American trucks to help reduce U.S. oil imports “and what we pay at the pump.”
– Reworking the corporate tax code. He urged Congress to work with him to close “wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here” and instead “lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.”
Even as Pres. Obama cited a growing economy and increasing corporate profits, he said average wages have been flat.
He announced an executive order impacting the minimum wage, an issue that has not received a lot of traction yet in Congress as Republicans largely oppose any federal increase, saying it will place a burden on employers.
He asked Congress to get on board with a Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum to $10.10 per hour.
Obama also promised an executive order to raise the minimum wage for some government contract workers. While the action is relatively narrow and affects less than half a million people, the hope is that this will spur Congress to follow suit for all low-wage workers in the U.S.