On January 27th, President Barack Obama gave his fifth State of the Union address to the nation. However, unlike past years where Mr. Obama announced major policy efforts (such as repealing the military’s ban on LGBT personnel in 2010, a pledge to have 80 percent of the country’s electricity come from clean sources by 2035 in 2011,) this year’s speech presented far more modest proposals.
Included among these proposals were immigration reform, and expanded authority to enter into trade agreements with foreign nations. These are two issues where both the president and the Republicans in Congress have some common ground.
The Senate has already passed an immigration bill. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has indicated in an interview with The Hill that there was a chance the bill could be passed by the House by the end of the year, as long as Democrats do not insist on a “special path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.
Speaker Boehner’s office also published a document on immigration reform that undocumented immigrants could “live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability…” and meet other standards such as passing a background check, a proficiency in the English language, and pay fines and back taxes.
President Obama also announced that through an executive order, all federal contractors that do business with the federal government must pay their workers a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. However, this increase would only affect future contracts with the government, and not have an effect on current contracted employers. Currently, there are bills in both houses of Congress to expand the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour to all workers.
Perhaps the most partisan moment of the evening is when President Obama scolded Congress for not acting quickly enough on economic reforms. He vowed that “wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) gave the Republican response. In her response, she refuted the president’s claim that the national unemployment rate had fallen to 6.7 percent, the lowest in five years, by pointing out that more and more workers have given up looking for work, and aren’t counted in official unemployment figures.
Ms. McMorris Rodgers also drew heat from liberal critics when she stated that “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s.” Earlier that morning, House Republicans passed H.R. 7, a bill that heavily restricted private insurance carriers from offering abortion coverage, and eliminated tax breaks for small businesses that offered insurance plans that cover abortion.