WASHINGTON — Frustrated by years of partisan gridlock, President Barack Obama is moving to flex his presidential powers during his sixth year in office. He's starting by using Tuesday night's State of the Union address to announce executive actions to raise the minimum wage for new federal contracts, help the long-term unemployed find work and expand job-training programs.
Obama's go-it-alone strategy, with modest steps for now, is aimed both at jumpstarting his stagnant second term and prodding a divided Congress to take additional action to boost economic opportunity for millions of Americans. But there's little indication lawmakers are ready to follow along, particularly as the nation barrels toward the midterm elections.
Keenly aware of Congress' slim record of recent accomplishments, White House officials see a robust rollout of executive actions as the most effective way to show the public that Obama still wields power as the clock ticks on his presidency.
"Congress is slow to action, and we're not going to wait for that," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said in an interview on "CBS This Morning."
Yet much of what the president can do on his own is limited, as evidenced by the minimum wage proposal officials previewed ahead of Tuesday's prime-time address, which will be viewed by millions at home. The executive order will increase the minimum hourly payment for new federal contract workers from $7.25 to $10.10. But because the measure affects only future contracts, its immediate impact will be minimal.
"The question is how many people, Mr. President, will this executive action actually help?" said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "I suspect the answer is somewhere close to zero."