Five years after Obama's historic mandate, the conditions of the great mass of Americans remains intolerable. And yet to hear his 5th State of Union address, an uninformed listener might think America's problems are limited and manageable.
The reason for this dissonance is that this State of the Union was not delivered by the man elected in the mandate of 2008. This State of the Union might as well have been given by a robot, or an actor, or a media spokesperson. In fact, a media spokesman is what this President of the United States has long since become. His is a voice that modulates the reality experienced by an ever more disconnected political establishment for a polity that grows smaller by the year.
THE FACTS: This would be a hefty boost in the federal minimum wage, now $7.25, but not many would see it.
Most employees of federal contractors already earn more than $10.10. About 10% of those workers, roughly 200,000, might be covered by the higher minimum wage. But there are several wrinkles. The increase would not take effect until 2015 at the earliest and it doesn't apply to existing federal contracts, only new ones. Renewed contracts also will be exempt from Obama's order unless other terms of the agreement change, such as the type of work or number of employees needed.
Obama also said he'll press Congress to raise the federal minimum wage overall. He tried that last year, seeking a $9 minimum, but Congress didn't act.
It won't happen right away, and we won't agree on everything. But 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. So wherever & whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do.
In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. Many businesses have done it on their own. To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don't have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour--because if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty.
Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20% less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. So say yes. Give America a raise.
Fact Check: The president is cherry-picking a number that puts the improvement in the economy in the best possible light. The low point in jobs was reached in February 2010, and there has indeed been a gain of about 8 million jobs since then, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. (Obama, saying "businesses," appears to be referring to private sector growth of 8.2 million; adding government jobs reduces the total to 7.6 million.) But the data also show that since the start of his presidency, about 3.2 million jobs have been created--and the number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007.
Fact Check: The GOP fired three separate rebuttal missives at Obama, but the speeches from Rodgers (Wash.) and Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) were heavy on personal narratives and partisan rhetoric that don't lend themselves to obvious fact checks. Still, Rodgers' jab at Obama over the economy, as part of the official GOP response, did overlook several key points.
To start, that shrinking labor force she harps on is largely due to a wave of retiring baby boomers--not exactly a development Obama has any role in. And while the latest financial numbers are far from rosy, the White House can hang its hat on the fact that the December 2013 unemployment rate is the lowest in Obama's presidency: 6.7 percent, down from a 10 percent peak in October 2009. Also, the U.S. economy is up 3.2 million jobs since Obama took office.
Fact Check: This has become a familiar theme by Republicans, but the decline in the labor participation rate is largely due to factors beyond Obama's control--namely the retirement of the Baby Boom generation. When Obama took office in January 2009, the workforce participation rate was 65.7%--and now it is 62.8%. So there has certainly been a decline. But the rate had already been on a steady downward track since it hit a high of 67.3% in 1999.
Just over half of the post-1999 decline in the participation rate comes from the retirement of the baby boomers. Just 15% of the drop in the labor force stems from people who want a job and are of prime working age (25-54).
Tonight, I've asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America's training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now. That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.
The president's taste for unilateral action to circumvent Congress should concern every citizen, regardless of party or ideology.
Rule of law doesn't simply mean that society has laws; dictatorships are often characterized by an abundance of laws. Rather, rule of law means that we are a nation ruled by laws, not men. That no one--and especially not the president--is above the law. For that reason, the U.S. Constitution imposes on every president the express duty to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."
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