February 08, 2014, 06:00 am
Will Obama's steps fix income inequality?
By Mike Lillis
President Obama vowed to take greater steps – with or without Congress – to combat the growing problem of income inequality.
In Saturday's weekly radio address, the president lamented that "those at the top are doing better than ever" in the wake of the Great Recession, while "too many Americans are working harder than ever just to get by."
"We’ve got to reverse those trends," Obama said. "We’ve got to build an economy that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few."
The president amplified his recent pledge – broadcast during last month's State of the Union address – to work with Congress "where I can," but also to act unilaterally if Republicans put up roadblocks to his economic agenda.
"Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, I will," he promised. "I’ve got a pen and a phone – a pen to take executive action, and a phone to rally citizens and business leaders who are eager to create new jobs and new opportunities. And we’ve already begun."
The message won't be welcomed by Republicans, who contend Obama has already skirted his constitutional powers by sidestepping Congress on issues as diverse as healthcare reform, deportation policy and national security.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said this week that, if Obama wants to act unilaterally to improve the economy, he should approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
"There's no reason, scientific or otherwise, to block this project any longer," Boehner said during a press briefing Thursday in the Capitol.
Citing the administration's record on healthcare reform, Boehner also suggested that Republicans are reluctant to take up immigration reform because of the party's distrust for how Obama would implement it.
"He keeps talking about his phone and his pen and he's feeding more distrust about whether he's committed to the rule of law," Boehner said Thursday. "There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be entrusted to enforce our laws, and it's gonna be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes."
Obama's push is part of an election-year campaign designed, at least in part, to highlight the stark differences between the parties when it comes to tackling the economic disparities between rich and working-class Americans, which have grown significantly since the recession's end.
A report released last month by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality found, for instance, that the top 1 percent of earners saw their taxable incomes grow 31 percent from 2009 to 2012, versus 0.4 percent for everyone else.
"It follows that the top one percent captured 95 percent of all income growth in the first three years of the recovery, as profits and equities rebounded strongly, but not wages," the researchers wrote.
Obama and the Democrats have sought to shrink the disparities with working-class benefits like extending unemployment insurance and hiking the minimum wage – proposals the Republicans have resisted.
On Saturday, the president highlighted the executive steps he's already initiated to improve the economy, including reforms to federal job-training programs, the launch of a new retirement savings initiative and a nudge to businesses to hire the long-term unemployed.
"When you hear me talk about using my pen and my phone to make a difference for middle class Americans and those working to get into the middle class," Obama said, "that’s what I mean."