Democrats briefed by White House officials Tuesday on President Obama’s speech say that he will try to focus the vast majority of the State of the Union on the economy and how he plans to try and build a better future for the middle class, including a push to raise the federal minimum wage.
The president will call for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 per hour, said Democrats briefed on the speech. The move would be a boon to working class families, but may anger small businesses that worry about it driving up their costs.
The Democrats briefed on the speech described White House officials as being privately concerned that weak economic growth and a recent increase in the unemployment rate is weighing down the president. So a big goal for Obama tonight is to rise above the Washington squabbles over “sequester” and other process fights and show he has concrete proposals to help the middle class.
“After the speech, they are planning to try and have the president get out on the road and drive an economic message for the next six weeks,” said one of several Democrats briefed on the White House’s plans.
The president’s travel to push that message will kick off Wednesday with a visit to North Carolina, followed by stops to Georgia and Illinois later in the week, although the push on the economy will begin tonight with the speech.
Beyond the push on the minimum wage, Democrats said, the president will also revive familiar proposals, such as a push for $50 billion in new infrastructure spending. Obama has been urging Congress to approve that since September of 2011 when he first unveiled the American Jobs Act.
New spending on infrastructure and other programs could clash, however, with the president’s simultaneous pledge to reduce the federal deficit. In excerpts released by the White House before the speech, the president will argue that he can unveil new spending that is paid for.
“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago,” the president will say, according to the excerpts. “Let me repeat -- nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.”
Even before the speech, Republicans were expressing skepticism that the President’s new plans can be paid for.
“President Obama hasn't recognized that we had a spending problem either,” said Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “You think back to his first inaugural address and he says he's going to cut the deficit in half by the first term. And we've seen record deficits, record spending, trillion-dollar-plus deficits for as long as President Obama's been in office.”