President Barack Obama took his message on the road today, campaigning in support of proposals made in last night’s State of the Union address, especially an increase to the federal minimum wage. He is beginning a week-long tour in which he will draw attention to the themes he outlined in the speech, with most of the emphasis on his economic proposals. He spoke at a Costco Warehouse in Maryland today and repeated his plea for Congress to “give America a raise” and increase the minimum wage.
Obama pointed out to the crowd in attendance that Costco starts its employees as $11.50 an hour, well above the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, and even above the $10.10 Obama himself has called for. He also emphasized his recent executive order requiring that all federal contract workers be paid at least $10.10 an hour. While an increase to the overall federal minimum wage requires legislative action by Congress, Obama also asked state governors and legislatures to not wait for Congress to act and raise their own state wages. The Democratic governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, is pushing to do just that in his state.
Not everyone was thrilled by Obama’s visit however. The Maryland chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a small business advocacy group, criticized the President’s proposal. They noted that while Costco is a fine company with a reputation for taking good care of its employees, not all businesses can operate on the same scale. Costco can afford to pay its employees more due to the size of the company and its business model. Small businesses, such as those represented by the NFIB, cannot operate on a similar model. The NFIB claimed that Obama’s proposal would have a negative impact on small business, and that since small business makes up the bulk of the economy, the overall effect of a minimum wage increase would hurt the economy. This did not discourage Obama from continuing to campaign to support his State of the Union proposals.
President Obama will continue his tour in Pennsylvania. Speaking at a steel plant in West Mifflin, he will highlight a new retirement proposal that he announced during the State of the Union. It is called “myRA” and will operate similarly to a Roth IRA account. The difference is that these accounts will be insured by the federal government and, according to Obama, they can never decrease in value. He will also repeat his call for employers to provide payroll-deduction savings accounts to their employees.
Obama will then travel to Wisconsin on Thursday. There he will emphasize his call for expanded job training programs. Long-term unemployment remains a large problem in the current economy and Obama argues that these individuals should have access to training programs to broaden and update their skills to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. This coincides with a comment he made in last night’s speech describing the long-term unemployed as suffering from a form of discrimination as they continue to attempt to find work.
Finally Obama will speak on Thursday at a high school in Nashville, Tennessee. He will highlight the success that the school has achieved and connect that success to administration initiatives such as “Race to the Top” and the Common Core standards. Education received little attention in the State of the Union speech as Obama repeated his call for nationwide pre-kindergarten and briefly mentioned the student loan debt crisis.
Obama himself noted that it is unlikely that Congress will take action on the items he has requested. That is why he mentioned his willingness to use executive actions to advance his agenda when possible. It is also why President Obama hit the road today, campaigning directly to support his proposals from the State of the Union speech.
By Christopher V. Spencer