In his first State of the Union address since winning re-election, Obama conceded economic revival is an “unfinished task,” but he claimed clear progress and said he prepared to build on it as he embarks on four more years in office.
“We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong,” Obama said in an hour-long address to a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.
Roman and Democratic National Committee member Wendy Davis felt Obama talked in a very inclusive way that welcomed Democrats and Republicans alike.
“I thought the president did an outstanding job,” Davis said. “I thought his tone was very much in line with ‘we’re all in this together and people expect us to get the job done.’ I think that, as citizens, that’s what we’re looking to hear.”
Yet with unemployment persistently high and consumer confidence falling, the economy remains a vulnerability for Obama and could disrupt his plans for pursuing a broader agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter gun laws and climate change legislation.
In specific proposals for shoring up the economy in his second term, an assertive Obama called for increased federal spending to fix the nation’s roads and bridges, the first increase in the minimum wage in six years and expansion of early education to every American 4-year-old.
He mentioned Georgia’s lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program as an example of this.
“I was also excited hear the shout out to Georgia on what we’re doing right as far as our pre-K program,” Davis said, adding that his remarks on modernizing ports were important for people in Savannah to hear.
Layla Shipman, director of public relations for the Floyd County Republican Party, responded to Obama’s talk about high quality pre-K in every state and better high schools by questioning how these improvements would be funded.
“We’re facing layoffs in Floyd County, as are other school systems around the country,” Shipman said, referencing the county schools’ Reduction In Force plan announced last week.
“How are you going to be able to do that?” Shipman continued.
Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 by 2015. The minimum wage has been stagnant since 2007, and administration officials said the increase would strengthen purchasing power. The president also wants Congress to approve automatic increases in the wage to keep pace with inflation.
Looking for common ground anywhere he could find it, Obama framed his proposal to boost the minimum wage by pointing out that even his GOP presidential rival liked the idea. He said, “Here’s an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”
Shipman said the president’s speech was much of the same as last year’s address and offered no real solutions or steps to solve the nation’s economic situation.
“There are still many people in this town as well as all over the country that have been unemployed for years or are underemployed,” Shipman said.
“We are still in a financial crisis and people are fearing for their jobs daily. I don’t see raising minimum wage to $9 an hour as beneficial. It’s great to have those working in the service industry make a higher wage, but that has to be paid by somebody.”
Staff Writer Jeremy Stewart contributed to this report.