Politics
5:01 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

John Yarmuth Wants Obama to Focus on Income Inequality Over Executive Authority

Kentucky Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth is hoping President Obama's State of the Union address focuses on economic fairness rather than executive power.

Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky.,
Credit U.S. Congress

The president is set to deliver his fifth address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

Supporters are hoping the speech can revive the administration's second-term agenda as Obama faces near record-low approval ratings and gridlock in Washington.

New polling data shows faith in Congress is even lower than the president.

White House officials have begun to leak out portions of what the president will talk about specifically, and it includes increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour.

"This should be the number one thing we talk about," says Yarmuth. "We are now in a situation where there’s greater economic disparities than there’s been in 100 years. And the trend is not getting any better. We've had wage stagnation for 90 percent of the American people for a couple of decades now, and this is a problem that has to be addressed. It's not something government can correct by itself, but it can play a leadership role."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposes a minimum wage hike, and his re-election campaign has described it as "class warfare." Rather, the GOP leader says the president's speech needs to look at other measures to improve the economy for middle-class workers.

"If (President Obama) wants to boost U.S. exports and create American jobs, he could move aggressively to conclude the kind of pro-growth trade agreements that our allies in the developed world—places like Europe and Canada—are already seeking. He could show he’s serious by pushing Democrats to join us in supporting bipartisan trade promotion legislation in Congress," McConnell wrote in a recent editorial.

Obama has said 2014 needs to be a "year of action" and administration officials have been blunt that the president will outline using executive orders to bypass Congress. With approaching mid-term elections, Republicans aren't expected to hand over many legislative victories.

White House aides have indicated the president won't wait for lawmakers to act and is willing to go it alone, but Yarmuth says like some Republicans critics of the president he has reservations about using executive authority to trump lawmakers.

"I understand his frustration and share much of it, but he has to be very careful with where he uses executive action and if it's to accomplish things that cannot pass Congress or wouldn't have a chance in passing Congress, then I think he's in dangerous territory particularly if he’s thinking about major policy shifts," he says. "If he's talking about raising minimum wage for federal contractors and those type of things I think that's something he can do and would be applauded by most Americans."

"But I tend to have some agreement with Sen. Rand Paul on this question. He cannot come off as using these tools to confront or circumvent Congress."

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