WASHINGTON – Seeking to energize his sluggish second term, President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday night in his State of the Union address to sidestep Congress “whenever and wherever” necessary to narrow economic disparities between rich and poor. He unveiled an array of executive actions that included increasing the minimum wage for some federal contract workers and making it easier for millions of low-income Americans to save for retirement.
“America does not stand still and neither do I,” Obama declared in his annual prime-time address before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television.
Draped in presidential grandeur, Obama’s prime-time address to a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching at home served as the opening salvo in a midterm election fight for control of Congress that will quickly consume Washington’s attention. Democrats, seeking to cast Republicans as uncaring about the middle class, have urged Obama to focus on economic mobility and the gap between the wealthy and poor.
For Obama, the address was also aimed at convincing an increasingly skeptical public that he still wields power in Washington even if he can’t crack through the divisions in Congress. Burned by a series of legislative failures in 2013, White House aides say they’re now redefining success not by what Obama can jam through Congress but by what actions he can take on his own.
Indeed, Obama’s proposals for action by lawmakers were slim and largely focused on old ideas that have gained little traction over the past year. He pressed Congress to revive a stalled immigration overhaul and pass an across-the-board increase in the federal minimum wage. His one new legislation proposal calls for expanding an income tax credit for workers without children.