Obama Outlines Initiatives To Raise Minimum Wage, Gain Energy Independence

President Barack Obama speaks in Warrensburg | Photo by Nuria Mathog
President Barack Obama, shown above at a July 2013 appearance in Warrensburg, pushed Tuesday night to raise the minimum wage. | Photo by Nuria Mathog

President Barack Obama briefly united Republicans and Democrats in Congress when he recognized a war-scarred soldier from St. Louis sitting next to Michelle Obama, but his comments during the annual State of the Union address predictably divided the parties.

“Like the Army he loves and like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Corey Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit,” Obama said near the end of his annual address.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Remsburg, and seven other members of his unit were injured when a roadside bomb exploded. Remsburg lied face down in a canal with a shrapnel in his brain.

Remsburg, who was on his 10th deployment, was hit in the head with shrapnel and has a large scar on his left temple from the injury. He is blind in one eye and needed assistance standing up.

Remsburg held a thumbs up high to thank the president, and members of Congress from both parties appeared to be holding back tears during the applause for the soldier who went to junior high and high school in the St. Louis area before enlisting.

Raising the minimum wage

The announcement that drew the most attention was Obama’s executive order requiring that wages of federal contract workers be raised to at least $10.10 per hour.

During last year’s address to the joint session, Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage for all workers to that amount, but the legislation failed. Tuesday night, Obama called on governors and mayors to raise minimum wages at the state and local levels.

In 2006, Missouri voters passed an initiative that requires the minimum wage to automatically be raised each year to keep up with rising costs of living. This year Missouri’s minimum wage rose from $7.35 to $7.50 per hour. Legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage closer to $10 an hour was filed in the General Assembly this month.

In Kansas City and St. Louis at points throughout 2013, fast food workers joined national protests calling for higher wages. The median wage in the fast food industry is $8.94 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project.

“Give America a raise,” Obama said Tuesday.

Republicans aren’t convinced the government should meddle with minimum wage. In the GOP’s rebuttal Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said, “I’d like to share a more hopeful Republican vision. One that empowers you, not the government. It’s one the champions free markets and trusts people to make their own decisions.”

Energy independence

Obama said that every four minutes an American home or business adds solar panels. He wants to eliminate $4 billion in tax breaks for fossil fuel industries and use the money to create incentives for companies to create jobs in the renewable energy industry.

One example is a project by Ameren Missouri: a solar farm in O’Fallon that will create 50 to 70 construction jobs, cost $10 to $20 million and power 650 homes.

Missouri response

Reaction to the State of the Union was mixed among Missouri’s Republican and Democratic representatives.

Republican Rep. Sam Graves echoed the GOP reaction with a comment in support of the free market. “The President spoke about income inequality tonight, but failed to mention his own role in making that gap wider,” Graves said in a statement, adding that governments cannot create jobs but only “set the table for economic growth for small business owners.”

“We must unleash our small businesses from excessive federal regulatory and tax constraints so the private sector can grow, create jobs, and lift wages and opportunities for all,” Graves said.

Democratic Sen. Clair McCaskill said she does not believe the president laid out any goals that divide the parties. “Raising the minimum wage for working families, building innovative private-public partnerships to invest in our roads and bridges, making the tax code fairer, and fixing our broken immigration system aren’t partisan initiatives,” McCaskill said. “They’re commonsense goals that we should all be ready to rally behind to strengthen America’s middle class families.”

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