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Obama 'Eager' to Work With Congress, but Ready to Act Alone

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Obama greets members of Congress as he arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Looking to jump-start his second term and give his party the advantage ahead of the November midterm elections, President Barack Obama pledged to do everything he can, with or without Congress, to reduce income inequality and bolster the middle class.

“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama said in his State of the Union address.

“Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I,” Obama said. “Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Obama announced that he would sign an executive order that would raise the minimum wage for new federal contractors to $10.10 an hour, alongside a push to raise the minimum wage for everyone else that was cheered by congressional Democrats but opposed by many Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

[See the Republican response by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers here.]

While stating he was unafraid to go it alone, Obama also tried to strike an upbeat note praising past bipartisan accomplishments, including the two-year budget deal, even as he chided Congress for shutting down the government and risking a debt default.

Areas where he believes Democrats and Republicans can work together include the farm bill, overhauling immigration laws, restoring expired unemployment insurance, an overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a patent overhaul and trade promotion authority — but there were no grand new legislative proposals.

Alongside that mostly recycled legislative agenda, Obama laid out a host of executive initiatives in the works — including a new starter retirement account, new regulations aimed at slowing climate change and improving energy efficiency, broadband wiring for schools and an overhaul of job training programs.

According to senior administration officials, Obama’s plan to use more executive actions is not designed as a challenge or threat to Congress to spur it to act, but is more about the president using every avenue at his disposal.

But Republicans said Tuesday they intended to carefully inspect the executive actions to see if Obama is overreaching — and they were predictably unimpressed.

“After five years, President Obama is clearly out of ideas,” Boehner said in a statement responding to the speech. “With few bipartisan proposals, Americans heard a president more interested in advancing ideology than in solving the problems regular folks are talking about.”

Writing for Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz blasted what he called “an imperial presidency.”

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