President Obama delivered his 5th State of the Union address to over 30 million Americans last week. Calling for a “year of action” Obama laid out a series of proposals on issues ranging from Guantanamo Bay and minimum wage to women’s rights and universal Pre-K. This State of the Union will hopefully start off a productive year and ease the partisan gridlock that has been frustrating congress for most of Obama’s second term. However after coming off the least productive session in the history of Congress and looming midterm elections, don’t be surprised if many of theses agenda items fail to come to fruition. Below are 5 of the major objectives President Obama presented for the upcoming year, and how likely it is that something actually happens.
1. “Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. It’s easy to remember: 10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It does not involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”
In the 2013 State of the Union President Obama asked Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour but decided this year to advocate for the Democrat plan of $10.10. Republicans in Congress have been staunchly opposed to any increase in minimum wage at either $9.00 or $10.10 and have frequently referred to the bill as a job killer. If Congress fails to take action Obama is considering an executive order to give federal workers a higher minimum wage, but this would affect few people since most federal employees already earn more than $10.10 an hour. Some states, such as California, Ohio, and New York, have taken steps to raise state minimum wages but even these are below the Democrat’s proposal.
In the offered Harkin-Miller Bill, Democrats recently added an amendment to give small businesses a tax break of up to $500,000 in order to offset the higher wages. While this measure may convince some Republicans to vote yes, it remains unlikely that the bill will gain enough traction. Too many conservative Super PACs have threatened to cut fundraising efforts for candidates who support an increase in the minimum wage, and many Republicans face primary challengers who will leap at the opportunity to paint their opponent as a false Conservative. There is a possibility that a slightly smaller increase such as $9.00 could pass if Democrats are aggressive enough and use the idea’s high public approval to their advantage. According to recent polling 63% of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10, and even larger majorities support a slightly smaller increase.
Despite these numbers it seems doubtful that a $10.10 minimum wage will pass this year. All politicians should want to get behind this issue because it’s good policy and holds widespread support. Unfortunately this is an extremely split Congress who will most likely leave many full-time employees still earning below the poverty line.
2. “This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, 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.”
It seems unlikely that this statement was anything more than a way for President Obama to appease the liberal base of the Democratic Party. Obama has not mentioned Guantanamo Bay in a State of the Union since 2009 and there have been no signs to indicate that Congress is going to act differently than it has over the past 5 years. The reason that Guantanamo Bay still remains open is largely due to Congress refusing to allow the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to prisons on U.S. soil. But with the war in Afghanistan coming to an end this year, new legal challenges to Guantanamo Bay could surface as the government has to continue to justify its “war on terror”. Eventually the United States will have to close Guantanamo Bay because it violates parts of the Constitution and weakens the United States foreign policy influence over other countries. However Guantanamo Bay will most likely stay open until the court system shuts it down.
3. When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year. Let’s get it done. It’s time.
Out of all of the proposals President Obama made during his State of the Union, immigration reform certainly has the best chance of happening. Latino voters made their displeasure with Republican immigration policies known in the 2012 election when they voted for Obama 71% to 22%. The Republican Party recognized that they must act on immigration reform before the 2014 election – or at least the 2016 election – in order to stand a chance in national elections.
Unfortunately Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on what exactly immigration reform entails. Both the House and Senate are crafting their own legislation with major differences over whether to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Democrats insist that any reform must include some sort of citizenship even if the process takes multiple years, while most members of the GOP, especially the Tea Party, say they refuse to pass legislation with amnesty. Some Republicans appear willing to make concessions, but others including John Boehner and Paul Ryan have stayed firm on their position that the final bill will not grant citizenship to adults here illegally.
If Republicans continue to block immigration reform they probably won’t lose control of the House but they may severely weaken their chances of taking back the Senate. It is in everybody’s best interests: politicians, immigrants, and the American people, to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Out of all of Obama’s goals for this year this is the one that should give Americans the most optimism, although with this Congress in control, exercising cautious optimism is always a good choice.
4. Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.
Unfortunately this isn’t going to happen. President Obama already made this request last year, and even if Democrats controlled both houses there still would be no guarantee of universal Pre-k passing. A new early childhood education system would require massive funding and months of intense legislation. Even though this type of program would improve education across America, give parents a better opportunity to find work, and create a globally competitive work force, this Congress cannot even manage to keep the government open let alone develop and pass universal Pre-K legislation. Some states have started to take up the issue themselves, but for now universal Pre-K will have to wait.
5. “You know, 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. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”
In an ideal world this legislation would pass immediately because of its constitutionality and widespread support. In fact, most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that the United States still doesn’t mandate companies to pay men and women the same. The Republican Party has acknowledged their disconnect with many women voters, and this bill appears to be a way to reach out to women without having to compromise on healthcare and reproductive rights. Publically Republicans state their support for equal pay for equal work, but when actually faced with legislation, almost every congressional Republican voted no on both the “Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” and “Paycheck Fairness Act”. This legislation should be a slam-dunk for Washington, but it remains doubtful that the American people will see any progress on the issue in the upcoming year.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.