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Legislators react to State of the Union Address

Thursday, January 30, 2014 — President Barack Obama vowed to press forward despite a deeply divided Congress, calling for equal pay for women and a higher minimum wage during Tuesday night’s annual State of the Union address.

Although President Obama’s second term agenda has been marred with low approval ratings and a health care law that has sputtered to get off the ground, his talk of equal pay for women and a higher minimum wage drew thundering applause and standing ovations, albeit mostly among bipartisan lines.

Obama called for a “Year of Action” in terms of creating jobs and narrowing the gap between the rich and poor. He asked for Congress to help, but vowed he would go it alone and invoke executive privilege if necessary.  

“I’m eager to work with all of you,” Obama said.

“But America does not stand still and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

The President implemented a minimum wage of $10.10 for employees working under federal contracts, urging private businesses to follow the lead. Obama even acknowledged some of those businesses that have already raised their rate of pay to help struggling families earn a living.

Although the economy is improving in terms of corporate profits and stock prices as well as incomes for the wealthy, wages have not kept pace, Obama said.

Obama said he also wants lawmakers to expand the earned income tax credit, remove retirement tax breaks for the wealthiest while expanding them for the middle class, give women more tools to fight discrimination and protect gay workers.

It didn’t take long for Obama’s agenda to fall flat among Republican ranks, including those representing North Carolina.

“The greatest achievement of our modern, free society is not the promise of equal outcomes — history is littered with the wrecks of nations that tried — but rather equality of opportunity,” U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a press release.  

“Unfortunately, the President’s policies are destroying opportunities for families and businesses across the country in the misguided belief that tearing down some will benefit all.”

Obama said in his joint-congressional speech that economic inequalities are keeping more Americans from contributing to the economy or saving for retirement. The impetus behind enacting the Affordable Health Care Act was because so many Americans could not afford health insurance from the private sector or were not provided benefits at work.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., called Obama’s policies the cause of economic inequality. He especially resented the President’s promise to bypass Congress in order to fulfill his agenda.

“The American people cannot afford a doubling down of the past four year’s failed policies like Obamacare,” Hudson said.

“Unfortunately, that’s exactly what President Obama promised them tonight as he once again put politics over leadership by seeking to circumvent the Constitution in order to advance his big government agenda.  His attempts to pit people against each other in order to score political points will do nothing to end the pain that so many Americans are suffering under the Obama economy.”

Obama also talked about adding new task forces and coalitions, red-tape cutting and groups he’s promising to convene. Vice President Joe Biden will be tasked to streamline job training programs. Community colleges are expected to shoulder various job training programs.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., applauded Obama’s use of community colleges while also taking the opportunity to tout her own agenda.

“I was pleased to hear the President talk about the importance of helping community colleges and businesses build partnerships, which is exactly what my bipartisan jobs bill, called the AMERICA Works Act, would do,” she said.

“My bill would help train workers for jobs available now by encouraging community colleges and jobs training centers to work with local industries to design curriculum based on the needs of area employers and teach the most in-demand skills.”

The President also wants Congress to expand jobless benefits.

Republicans counter that Obama’s policies are responsible for the lagging recovery of jobs.

“Unemployment, and underemployment, remain high,” Burr said.  

“If you count Americans who have stopped looking for work and dropped out of the workforce entirely, it’s near record highs. And the income inequality that the President speaks about is higher under his administration than at any point since before the Great Depression.”

Obama again pushed lawmakers to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws — which he said could grow the economy $1 trillion over two decades and create thousands of jobs.

Republicans, however, still prefer that the government get out of the way and allow the free enterprise system to create economic opportunities.

“What the President doesn’t seem to understand is that it’s not our government that makes us great, but rather our people when they have the freedom and initiative of our free enterprise system to find work to provide for themselves and their families,” Hudson said.

“President Obama should focus on finding common ground with conservatives on these initiatives to unleash American energy and get government out of the way to allow our nation’s job creators to expand opportunity.”

The Stanly News and Press, By: Ritchie E. Starnes

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