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Obama to lift minimum wage for federal contractors: White House

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Challenging lawmakers to help him create greater economic opportunity, President Barack Obama will use his State of the Union address Tuesday to announce he's raising the minimum wage for new federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, underscoring a go-it-alone strategy in an election year critical to Democrats' hopes for retaining Senate control.

Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress will be wrapped in a unifying theme: The federal government can play a key role in increasing opportunities for Americans who have been left behind, unable to benefit from a recovering economy.

Yet the president will deliver a split message, pressing issues that will distinguish him and Democrats from Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections.

Illustrating his willingness to act on his own, the White House says Obama will announce that he will sign an executive order increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for new federal contracts. The measure affects only future contracts, not existing ones, and would only apply to contract renewals if other terms of the agreement changed. As a result, the order would benefit far fewer workers than the number foreseen by advocates of federal contract employees.

Still, the issue dovetails with what will be Obama's broader call for an increase in the national minimum wage to $10.10 and for future increases to be tied to inflation. Obama last year had called for an increase in the minimum wage to $9.

Even as he argues that low income Americans and many in the middle class lack the means to achieve upward mobility, Obama will also feel compelled to take credit for an economy that by many indicators is gaining strength under his watch. As a result, he will talk positively about a recovery that remains elusive to many Americans.

Some Democrats are warning Obama to tread carefully.

"We hope that he does not dwell on the successes of the economy, which may be apparent in employment statistics, the GDP and stock market gains, but which are not felt by folks at the grocery store," Democratic political analysts James Carville and Stan Greenberg wrote in a recent strategy memo.

The president will present Congress with an agenda largely unchanged from what he called for a year ago, but one that nevertheless fits neatly into this year's economic opportunity theme. He will continue to seek an overhaul of immigration laws, an increase in the minimum wage and expanded pre-school education.

But after a year in which those proposals languished and gun control failed, the White House is eager to avoid letting Obama be defined by quixotic ambitions. As a result, he will stress success through executive actions, though their reach would be far more modest than what he could achieve through legislation.

"Congress is slow to action and we're not going to wait for that," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said in an interview on "CBS This Morning." He told NBC's "Today" show that Obama is not concerned about his public approval ratings as he enters the sixth year of his presidency: "The president doesn't come down to work every day or go up to the residence every night worried about poll numbers."

Obama's biggest and most lasting accomplishment of his second term could be immigration legislation. House Republican leaders lately have sent signals that they are willing to act on piecemeal legislation, and Obama has given them room to work without prodding.

How immigration gets resolved will depend much on what the House is able to pass and if and how it can be reconciled with bipartisan Senate legislation that passed last year. Conservatives are pushing back against any bill that gives legal status to immigrants who are in the country illegally. And some Democrats would prefer to use the unresolved issue to mobilize Hispanic voters for this year's midterm elections.

Eager not to be limited by legislative gridlock, Obama on Tuesday is also expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work.

Among them is a new retirement savings plan geared toward workers whose employers don't currently offer such plans. The program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds that eventually could be converted into a traditional IRAs, according to two people who have discussed the proposal with the administration. Those people weren't authorized to discuss it ahead of the announcement and insisted on anonymity.

"Tomorrow night, it's time to restore opportunity for all," Obama said Monday on the video-sharing site Vine, part of the White House's broad social media promotion of the speech.

The White House says the hike in minimum pay for federal contract workers would most benefit janitors and construction workers working under new federal contracts, as well as military base workers who wash dishes, serve food and do laundry. The White House says contractors will have time to take the higher minimum wage into account when pricing their bids.

Obama's go-it-alone approach has already irritated Republicans, some of whom claim he is pushing the limits of the Constitution.

"We have a minimum wage. Congress has set it. For the president to simply declare I'm going to change this law that has passed is unconstitutional," Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said Tuesday on CNN.

"He can work with us to create opportunity and prosperity," wrote Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Or he can issue press releases."

The approach, some Republicans say, could also backfire by angering GOP leaders who already don't trust Obama's administration.

"The more he tries to do it alone and do confrontation, the less he's going to be able to get cooperation," said John Feehery, a former top House Republican aide.

Obama will follow his State of the Union address with a quick trip Wednesday and Thursday to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee to promote his proposals. On Friday, Obama will hold an event at the White House where he'll announce commitments from several companies to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed during hiring.

Following tradition, the White House has invited several people to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday night's address. Among them are General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Cristian Avila of Phoenix, an immigrant who with two younger siblings was brought to the U.S. illegally when Avila was 9. Now 23, Avila is one of the so-called Dreamers who have benefited from an Obama policy allowing young people who immigrated illegally with their parents to avoid deportation. Other guests include two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and Jason Collins, an openly gay former NBA player.

Join the discussion

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dexrmerritt January 28 2014 at 8:53 AM

have the Senate and Congress pay for their interns....mmmm

Flag Reply +15 rate up
breezejd38 January 28 2014 at 8:59 AM

Obama practices the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.

There ought to be one day ~ just one ~ when there is open season on Senators. Will Rogers

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Rich January 28 2014 at 9:01 AM

"Janitors and construction workers would be among the beneficiaries of the order, the White House said."
I don't know too many construction workers, even unskilled laborers, that aren't already getting that kind of pay. But has the potential to drive up the cost of government contracts, and increase the deficit, unless he thinks that hell get more than 100% of it back in taxes.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
kesac January 28 2014 at 9:01 AM

What Federal contractors pay less than that now? There are already all kinds of Federal laws on the books requiring federal contractors to prove that they pay the prevailing wage.
This is pure showboating.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
sunny8101 January 28 2014 at 9:02 AM

I just can't believe how he keeps getting by with his "executive orders" to make and break anything he takes a fancy to. He has abused his sacred power since day one. I'll be so glad to see him go bye bye!!

Flag Reply +12 rate up
2 replies
atprintec sunny8101 January 28 2014 at 9:07 AM

Because Congress want grow a pair and challenge him. I do believe Congress has so many things in the closet they know about each other that they don't want the American public to know.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Polkanana sunny8101 January 28 2014 at 9:12 AM

He has more executive orders than any President of this United States has ever had...........

Flag Reply +2 rate up
b236 January 28 2014 at 9:02 AM

Maybe the President should concentrate on all those promises he made, that have not been kept.
Richard Nixon was impeached for a lot less than this President has done. The cost of Oboma care,
heads should be rolling

Flag Reply +9 rate up
1 reply
Polkanana b236 January 28 2014 at 9:11 AM

Why should he care, he and his family and the rest of his cronies live off the fat of our tax dollars.
Also, by giving this raise to many of the low paid people only means more taxes to come out of their pay checks each week...........I do payroll and I know how the system works.........

Flag Reply +1 rate up
BigSexy January 28 2014 at 9:04 AM

How about paying teachers? Oh I forgot....education isn't needed to reach the upper echelon of government!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
janeticeprincess BigSexy January 28 2014 at 9:07 AM

Teachers in Connecticut where I live are paid very well. The average teacher here make at least $50,000 a year and most $75,000 and pension plan. Adminitrator get over $125,000, I don not know if the whole country pays this good.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
drcltaylor January 28 2014 at 9:04 AM

This arrogant move by Obama is not the first such attempt. He gave money to many union members by use of the Stimulus program in his first term. That repayed them for their union's support to his first election. Remember "shovel-ready" which virtually did not exist! People who wanted to support an undefined "change" in his campaign rhetoric, did not stop to ask "change to what"? Now that they know, Obama the Czar is losing support from millennials and others. BUT, he has three years remaining.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
stratman3963 January 28 2014 at 9:04 AM

I love how the government figures it will be better for the taxpayer if we raise the amount A federal employee receives in their paycheck. The only thing I see here is A planned opportunity by the government to grow in numbers as the private sector with it's much lower min. wage jumps on the band wagon and becomes A government worker for what is really still pennies and not to mention, the taxpayer pays their salary. So I ask, How is this good for the taxpayer?

Flag Reply +4 rate up
rgkarasiewicz January 28 2014 at 9:04 AM

He certainly isn't doing the middle class any favors at all with this action. All that this will accomplish is to fleece the middle class even more from higher taxes needed to fund this boost in the minimum wage.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
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