CAPITOL HILL —
In the coming hours, U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. Lawmakers are not waiting for the speech to react to its anticipated contents.
The president is expected to focus on economic matters, specifically on ways to combat the growing income gap between rich and poor Americans. Democratic congressman Adam Schiff says a national dialogue on income distribution is long overdue.
“Our economy and our society are being challenged by a yawning inequality gap that affects tens of millions of American families and threatens to erode the underpinnings of our social contract," said Schiff.
Schiff endorsed measures that have Obama’s firm backing, such as extending jobless benefits for the long term unemployed, raising the minimum wage nationwide, and expanding training and educational opportunities for struggling workers.
“We should never seek to punish success or, as some describe it, soak [overtax] the rich; but, we must take steps to address the problem of growing inequality," he said.
News reports say the president will announce a minimum wage hike for federal contractors, a limited measure at best, but one he can authorize without congressional action.
Republicans are already blasting what they see as presidential overreach and attempts to circumvent the legislative process. The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, derided the White House’s call for “ladders of opportunity” to the middle class, saying it is Obama’s policies that have inhibited economic opportunity.
“Ladders into the middle class have been kicked away, sawed off, and literally regulated into oblivion. This is the legacy of the Obama economy as we stand here at the start of 2014," said McConnell.
McConnell urged the president to embrace bipartisanship over what he termed “stale ideology.”
“He could ask members of both parties to make 2014 a year of real action, rather than just a talking point. If he does, he will find he has a lot of support from Republicans," he said.
The Republican response to the State of the Union address will be delivered by congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of House Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team and a plain-spoken critic of governmental activism championed by the president. Additional Republican responses will be given by two Tea Party lawmakers: Republican Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul.