While President Barack Obama's attempts to increase the nation's minimum wage through legislation have stalled in Congress, the White House announced plans on Tuesday to use the president's executive powers to partially address the problem.
Just hours before the President is scheduled to deliver his fifth State of the Union address, the White House revealed that Obama will issue an executive order to increase the minimum wage for new federal contract workers.
The action will cover all workers employed under future government contracts, ensuring that none is paid less than $10.10 an hour. In a fact sheet announcing the action, the White House highlighted several occupations that will be helped by the move, including kitchen and laundry workers on military bases, as well as janitors at federal buildings and construction workers at government building sites.
"The President has embraced the idea in the past that he can use his authority as President and the powers available to the President to advance his agenda on behalf of the American people," White House press secretary Jay Carney said at his briefing on Monday. "What we have said is that he views 2014 as a year of action and that he has tasked his team to come up with new ways in which we can -- he can -- advance that agenda."
An administration official confirmed the action will apply only to new contracts, and the White House believes contractors will have time to factor the new wage requirements into future bids.
Included in Tuesday's announcement was a call for Congress to pass an increase in the minimum wage nationwide and an endorsement of a proposal put forward by two senior Democrats, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. George Miller of California. The proposal would raise the minimum wage for all workers in stages, ultimately reaching $10.10 an hour, while also indexing the wage floor to inflation going forward.
Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner pushed back against the executive action by the President.
"This idea that he's just going to go it alone, I have to remind him we do have a constitution. And the Congress writes the laws, and the President's job is to execute the laws faithfully. And if he tries to ignore this he's going to run into a brick wall," the top Republican in the House told reporters.
"Were just not going to sit here and let the President trample all over us," Boehner added.
Obama has made wages and economic inequality a central theme of his second term in office, raising the issue repeatedly, including during a call for an extension of emergency unemployment benefits in his first public event of 2014.
"America is getting stronger, and we've made progress," the President said. "And the economy is growing, and we've got to do more to make sure that all Americans share in that growth. We've got to help our businesses create more jobs. We've got to make sure those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families rebuild a little security. In other words, we've got to make sure that this recovery leaves nobody behind. And we've got a lot of work to do on that front."
Two national polls conducted in the past two weeks both indicate widespread support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Seventy-two percent of those questioned in a CBS News survey and 73% of those questioned in a Pew Research Center poll said they favor the move. Both surveys indicated a partisan divide, with around nine in ten Democrats and seven in ten independents in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and Republicans divided.