President Barack Obama called for a higher minimum wage and stricter gun laws, proposed making preschool available to all 4-year-olds, and asked Congress to rewrite U.S. immigration law.
Republicans in Congress are making clear that little of it will happen.
House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and rank-and-file Republicans opposed many of the details Obama set out in his second-term agenda in his State of the Union address to Congress. They signaled that the political fights of the past aren’t over yet.
Boehner dismissed the president’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage. Republicans also gave a negative response to Obama’s call for new legislation to curb greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists say drives global warming.
“When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters at a news conference yesterday in Washington. “Why do we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?”
In his Feb. 12 speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama proposed raising the hourly federal minimum wage to its highest inflation-adjusted value since 1981, under President Ronald Reagan, according to a White House fact sheet.
Obama’s speech was a “go-through-the motions laundry list of things” he’d “like to do,” said South Dakota Senator John Thune, a member of the chamber’s Republican leadership.
“Minimum wage won’t pass the House, climate-change won’t pass the House,” Thune said. “Those are things he would probably have a hard time getting a lot of Democrats to vote for.”
The same is true for Obama’s call for guaranteeing pre-school programs for all 4-year-olds, he said. “How do you pay for it?” he said. By saying the programs wouldn’t “add a single dime to the deficit” Obama is expecting Congress to raise taxes “to finance all these new programs,” he said.
Six Senate Democrats seeking re-election next year in states that supported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 “are going to be hard pressed to vote for” new tax revenue beyond increases that have been passed, Thune said.
The president also urged Congress to pass immigration legislation and stricter gun-control measures and asked for $50 billion in infrastructure spending.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Obama’s speech a “liberal boilerplate that any Democratic lawmaker could have given at any time in recent memory.”
“He advocated tax reform, but mostly as a way to increase the size of government, not as a way to increase our competitiveness,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a floor speech. “He spoke of workers’ minimum wages, instead of their maximum potential.”
The speaker’s comments on Obama’s proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage to $9 from $7.25 by the end of 2015 reflected a longstanding Republican argument that such increases only depress employment among young and low-skilled workers.
The last federal minimum-wage increase was in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, though it came out of a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush. A new increase would affect an estimated 15 million people. Obama also suggested making the minimum wage rise with the cost of living.
Boehner signaled an increase had little prospect of passing the Republican-controlled House.
“A lot of people who are being paid the minimum wage are being paid that because they come to the workforce with no skills and this makes it harder for them to acquire the skills they need in order to climb that ladder successfully,” Boehner said.
Representative Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said a minimum-wage measure would “have a chance” if it is accompanied by a “business package of tax credits and expensing” rules to help small businesses. Obama needs to make “a good argument of here’s how we can grow jobs and help small business,” he said in an interview.
On immigration, Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who was his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, said on CNN that Obama’s statements were “pretty productive.”
The president said he wanted strong border security and “a responsible pathway to earned citizenship,” including paying taxes and a “meaningful penalty” and getting in line behind others seeking to enter the country legally.
Obama “used the right words, the right tone, which tells me he actually doesn’t want to politicize” immigration, Ryan told reporters in the Capitol. That is “conducive” to reaching a bipartisan agreement, he said.
Obama’s call for new legislation to slow climate change isn’t “an issue that’s going to resonate in a very sluggish economy,” said Pennsylvania Republican Representative Charlie Dent. “Raising energy prices is probably not going to stimulate economic growth.”
Dent, who represents one of the nation’s top coal-producing states, said climate legislation “is going to have some very negative impacts on consumers, manufacturers and farmers. I don’t see that getting anywhere.”
Ryan said Obama’s speech reflected an apparent desire to “sweep the debt crisis under the rug, and for the life of me I don’t understand why they think they are going to get away with that.”
Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, dismissed Republican complaints that Obama wasn’t specific about how to curb entitlement programs such as Medicare or avert $1.2 trillion over nine years in across-the-board spending cuts set to begin March 1.
The State of the Union isn’t “the night for all the specifics,” Levin said in an interview. “It was a ‘let’s-do-it’ speech.”