President Obama might spend this year focused on attacking income inequality, but that wasn't immediately clear from the laundry list of domestic priorities he laid out Tuesday during his State of the Union address.
Obama did raise the issue during his 65-minute speech before a joint session of Congress. But it was just one of many that Obama discussed, running counter to expectations that income inequality would function as the overarching theme of the president's fifth State of the Union address. Rather, it was one of just many items Obama vowed to deal with in the critical election year ahead.
In fact, even as Obama periodically returned to the general issue of inequality throughout his speech, he cloaked it in pleas for action previously requested -- and rebuffed. Those actions included raising the minimum wage, ensuring that female employees earn the same as their male counterparts and creating universal access to pre-school for American children.
“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher and those at the top have never been better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all,” Obama said early in his address.
“Our job is to reverse these trends,” Obama continued. “It won’t happen right away.”
Obama went on to announce that he would push “a set of concrete, practical proposals” to address economic growth, vowing to bypass Congress whenever possible if lawmakers fail to move his agenda. Among the president’s proposals were expanding access to the earned income tax credit for lower-income workers and pursuing corporate tax reform and other measures to make it easier for businesses to increase hiring.
Obama also called for government regulations to mandate guaranteed leave from work to care for a sick child, spouse or elderly parent. Reacting to all of this, congressional Republicans and conservatives outside the Beltway were nonplussed.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who delivered the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union, criticized Obama’s approach. The No. 4 House Republican leader said her party opposes the president’s government-centric approach and wants to “empower people, not politicians.”
Income inequality is an issue, McMorris Rodgers said. But “the real gap we face today is one of equality [of] opportunity ... The president’s policies are making people's lives harder.”