President Barack Obama managed a rarity Tuesday in offering a national address that truly reflected the state of things — at least inside the Beltway.
Obama offered a speech that was pragmatic, realistic and more than a little depressing, one that reflected the abysmal state of relations in the nation's capital and the reality that given the entrenchment of tea party-driven Republicans, not much is likely to be achieved in the coming year.
The result was an address that was frank but remarkably short on ambition, offering little more than a president's plea for initiatives to “speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”
And even those objectives are a stretch given the inability of Congress to agree recently on extending unemployment benefits and continuing food stamps to millions of Americans still struggling to recover from the worst economic setback since the Great Depression.
Obama noted that a number of proposals require Congressional action. “And I'm eager to work with all of you,” he said.
Among other things, he asked Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, approve preschool funding, adopt tax reform and do away with subsidies for fossil fuel companies at a time when the nation is trying to reduce carbon emissions, not encourage them.
But the president made clear that he's not waiting around for Congress to act. “America does not stand still and neither will I,” he said, pledging that “whenever and wherever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I am going to do.”
The president promised to use his executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers, create a new government-backed private retirement savings plan and accelerate plans to connect schools to broadband wireless.
But even these accomplishments would be modest. The unilateral wage increase for contract employees, for example, wouldn't take effect until well into the future, offering little help for today's workers.