Washington, Jan 29 (IANS) Frustrated over inaction by a divided Congress, President Barack Obama has vowed to make 2014 a year of action by moving forward on an ambitious agenda to address economic inequality with or without the legislature.
“Let’s make this a year of action,” said a combative Obama wearing a blue suit and a light blue tie in his fifth State of the Union address to a joint session of the Congress in the chamber of the House of Representatives Tuesday night.
“That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations,” said Obama in a 65-minute address from the House lectern with Republican House speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden seated on the speaker’s dais behind him.
“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher”, he said, but “inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled”.
“Our job is to reverse these trends,” said Obama offering what he called “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,” he told the legislators even as he made clear: “But 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,” Obama declared.
He announced an executive order to raise the minimum wage for some government contract workers to $10.10 per hour even as he asked the Congress to get on board with a Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum to the same rate.
Republicans largely oppose any federal increase, saying it will place a burden on employers.
Obama also called on the Republicans to stop trying to undermine his 2010 signature health care reform law passed without Republican support, saying “the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles”.
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 theatres, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”
Separately, the president also unveiled a proposal for a new type of 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”.
He also urged the Congress to work with him to rewrite the corporate tax code to close “wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here” and instead “lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home”.
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 opposition Republican Party has not taken well to the idea. Speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday, Boehner said Republicans are “just not going to sit here and let the President trample all over us”.
Several other Republican legislators have also criticised Obama for his plans to bypass the Congress.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])