State of the Union provides outline for future of nation

Flickr/Pete Souza

There are three noteworthy things about the State of the Union, which was given by President Barack Obama on Jan. 28. The first was best said by GOP strategist Alex Castellanos: “A speech by Barack Obama is a lot like sex — the worst there ever was is still excellent.” The second is that the president demonstrated a prepared, workable and positive plan for how the U.S. government could function, encouraging growth and prosperity across all 50 states. And the third is that the Republicans would immediately and passionately oppose almost everything he said, just because the president said it.

Republican obstruction, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, has grown to levels that have never — neither empirically nor historically — been seen in the history of government. I’ve previously written about the causes and effects of congressional gridlock, as have many others. Yet time and time again, many GOP representatives and senators have defied the overwhelming wishes of the American people and pandered to a select few, be it business moguls, oil oligarchs or extreme members of the Tea Party.

Flickr/Pete Souza
Flickr/Pete Souza

However, gridlock has never deterred this president. Faced with a $3.6 trillion infrastructure deficit by 2020, he called for one of the largest expansions of infrastructure spending since the New Deal. This is one of the most simple, yet effective, policies that any government in the world could take up. Infrastructure spending is needed around the country, meaning that investment in infrastructure can be used to alleviate unemployment in nearly every county of every state.

By creating and improving roads, bridges and tunnels, businesses can expand, creating economic growth and taking advantage of resources in areas that were previously out of reach. It makes transportation safer, by reducing travel fatalities and injuries from poorly upkept surfaces, and cheaper, as developments in construction allow cars and trucks to travel more efficiently. Infrastructure reduces unemployment and dependence on foreign oil while improving economic growth and safety. To me, that is a no-brainer.

An issue that has troubled policymakers for some time is the federal minimum wage. Two problems exist. First, if you work a normal 40-hour week being paid $7.25 an hour, and you work every week of the year, you will earn less than $18,500 a year, on which you cannot comfortably live. The second is that many states have different minimum wages, which means that it is attractive to move jobs from states with higher minimum wages to those with lower, thus creating economic disruption. For years, Democrats have called for an increase in the minimum wage so that anyone who works full time will not be forced to live in poverty, and the president called for that again in his speech.

He also called for Republicans to stop obstructing government by continuing to fight against Obamacare, which is helping people across the country gain access to health care, many for the first time in their lives. Both of these policies make sense and will help ordinary people.

These, along with many other policy issues, including equal pay for women, eliminating subsidies for oil companies, new fuel standards, closing Guantanamo Bay and reworking the corporate tax code were all proposed by the president. The reality, however, is that virtually none will get through Congress. Republican opposition to anything with the words “President Obama” applied to it ensures that 2014 will be yet another year of legislative inaction. The key difference is that the president is now prepared to use his role as the executive of the United States to his advantage.

President Obama has promised that, in the event Congressional Republicans fail to work with him to pass legislation, he will use the executive function of the Office of the President to govern. He has already promised to eliminate federal obstructions to major infrastructure projects, as well as ensuring that all federal contractors will be paid at least $10.10 an hour. This is fantastic news that all Americans should rejoice over; while the president’s actions may be more limited than those of Congress, at least someone will be governing the country.

James Stancliffe is the public relations director for the Loyola Democrats and is a contributing columnist. You can contact him at jstancliffe@luc.edu

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