President Obama delivers State of the Union

By: ABC, Associated Press
By: ABC, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON (ABC) — President Obama pledged to charge forward in 2014 with an agenda focused on economic opportunity, with or without the help of Congress, in his State of the Union address tonight.

“America does not stand still – and neither will I,” Obama told lawmakers in a joint session at the Capitol. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

"Let’s make this a year of action," he added.

Though he touted the economy’s progress -- a low unemployment rate, rebounding housing market and lower deficits -- Obama said that the partisan debates over the size and scope of government have stymied progress on proposals to put more Americans back to work.

He said the upcoming year can be a “breakthrough year” for the country.

“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. “Our job is to reverse these trends. It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.”

Obama is looking to make a forceful start to the sixth year of his presidency after much of his agenda remained unfinished in the halls of Congress in 2013.

Tonight, Obama announced an increase in the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, and he will call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers.

Obama pledged to pursue proposals with or without Congress in order to address income inequality and economic mobility.

“Opportunity is who we are,” Obama said. “And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

Among the proposals are priorities Obama has put forward before: slashing bureaucracy to fast-track construction jobs, comprehensive reform of the tax code and boosting manufacturing.

Obama called on Congress to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has so far gone nowhere in Congress. And he slammed workplace policies that he said belong in a bygone era.

“She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job,” Obama said. “A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.

“It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode,” he said.

One proposal that was met with bipartisan support and applause from House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, was a proposal to reform job training programs to focus on filling the unemployed with jobs that need to be filled immediately.

And Obama pushed lawmakers again to follow through on comprehensive immigration reform, which passed in the Senate but was never taken up in the Republican-dominated House, which he said could shrink the deficit by almost $1 trillion in the next 20 years.

“And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent and contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone,” Obama said.

Obama also announced new initiatives, including a partnership with private tech and telecom companies Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon, to provide high-speed broadband in 15,000 American schools.

He proposed a new retirement savings plan, called a MyRA, that “guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.”

And he seemingly endorsed a proposal by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to boost the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide more aid to single Americans without children.

President Barack Obama's chief of staff says Congress has been "slow to action" -- and he says "we're not going to wait for that."

Denis McDonough was on the morning network news programs in advance of tonight's State of the Union speech, in which President Barack Obama is expected to announce some executive actions aimed at helping Americans who haven't benefited from the recovering economy.

President Obama will be announcing a new retirement savings plan is going to be geared toward workers whose employers don't currently offer those plans. It's part of the president's focus tonight on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed. Two people familiar with the proposal say first-time savers could start building up savings in Treasury bonds that eventually could be converted into a traditional IRA.

He'll also be raising the minimum wage for new federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour. It's a move that dovetails with President Obama's call for an increase in the national minimum wage to $10.10, and for future increases to be tied to inflation.

House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) notes that the increase is limited only to federal contractors, and he says the number of people who will benefit is "somewhere close to zero." He's also warning against raising the minimum wage nationally, arguing that "when you raise the cost of something, you get less of it." He says it would hurt the people the president says he's trying to help.

WATCH the State of the Union live below:

The U.S. economy is showing more strength than at any time since the Great Recession began six years ago.

Employers are hiring. Home prices, sales and construction have surged. Corporate profits and stocks have hit records. And consumers have picked up their spending.

The economy has yet to fully recover from the most devastating crisis since the Great Depression. But it's getting closer — a point President Barack Obama was expected to highlight in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

By the middle of this year, after years of steady but sluggish improvement, the United States is expected to have finally regained all the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession, which officially ended 4½ years ago. Many economic forecasters say the economy should grow 3 percent or more this year. That would be its best performance since 2005.

And yet in some ways, the lopsided nature of the half-decade global recovery leaves Obama with little to celebrate. Much of the U.S. labor force has gone without pay increases. Millions have struggled for more than six months to find work. Others have had to accept lower-paying jobs and diminished career prospects.

Forty percent of Americans identify themselves as lower or lower-middle class, according to a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center. Just 25 percent of the country felt that way in 2008.

The world economy remains fragile. That was driven home this month by the turmoil in emerging economies that sent the U.S. stock market falling after a stunning 2013 rally that rewrote record books.

If the economy does come close to 3 percent growth for 2014, it would mark a solid improvement from the 2.4 percent average annual growth during the recovery so far. On Thursday, the government will estimate economic growth for all of 2013.


Job growth has been remarkably steady in an uneven recovery. Employers have added at least 2.1 million jobs in each of the past three years, creating momentum that could help the economy gain speed in 2014. Each new job puts more money in the hands of people to spend. That's why consistent job growth can give more traction to the recovery. The unemployment rate has plunged from 7.9 percent to 6.7 percent over the past year. That's down from a 10 percent peak in October 2009.

Still, the benefits of more hiring have been muted so far, in part because much of it has been concentrated in the low-wage industries of hotels, restaurants, retailers and temp workers. Also, millions of jobless Americans have stopped looking for work. Once people without jobs stop their searches, they're no longer counted as unemployed. As a result, the unemployment rate can fall in a way that overstates the health of the economy.

In December, for example, the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent to 6.7 percent, its lowest point in more than five years. But that was mainly because a wave of Americans stopped looking for work.


Real estate is rebounding. Home prices have climbed 13.7 percent over the past 12 months, according to a Standard & Poor's index released Tuesday. Sales of existing homes totaled 5.09 million last year, the best such performance since 2006, the National Association of Realtors said last week. Home industry experts say the gains should continue this year, though at a slower pace because higher mortgage rates and home prices will make buying less affordable for some.


The spending of consumers, which fuels about 70 percent of the economy, is starting to return to its pre-recession levels. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 80.7 this month, well above last year's average of 73.3. Retail sales bumped up 4.2 percent in 2013, the fourth straight annual increase. Roughly 15.6 million autos were bought last year, an 8 percent improvement and the highest total since 2007. Historically low inflation and interest rates have kept food and clothing affordable. And according to the Gallup Organization, average daily consumer spending rose $16 to $88 last year.


The Dow Jones industrial average enjoyed a monster 2013, climbing 28 percent. Corporate profits are at their highest share of the economy in the 66 years of tracking by the government. Shares were bolstered by a Federal Reserve bond-buying program that is now being wound down. The eventual end of the program, paired with weak growth in China and troubles in Argentina and Turkey, help explain the 4.1 percent decline in the stock market since the start of this year.

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