President Barack Obama has had an eventful year.
The extent of the government’s online surveillance programs was leaked to the public. The legislative hallmark of his first term — health care reform — was hobbled by technological failures. In October, large swathes of the federal government shut down in legislative gridlock.
Leaving controversy by the wayside Tuesday evening, Obama gave a sweeping, legacy-focused State of the Union that didn’t shy from setting an agenda largely focused on economic inequalities — with or without the help of Congress.
Obama opened his sixth annual message with an economic collage of portraits of everyday Americans. He followed with a slew of statistics to bolster an agenda that called for extending unemployment insurance, reforming immigration, addressing climate change and following through on women’s rights issues.
Obama said during the speech he would issue an executive order raising the minimum wage to at least $10.10 per hour on all future federal government contracts, and urged Congress to draw up legislation that would make the wage universal, and rise with inflation.
In response, the president realigned his rhetoric in his speech, arguing that upward mobility had “stalled.”
MSU economics professor Charles Ballard said the increased minimum wage would have a positive economic impact overall, but said he was more enthused about Obama’s mention of the earned income tax credit.
“It doesn’t lead to the possible reduction in employment that the (increased) minimum wage might have,” Ballard said.
Obama also addressed access to higher education and student loan debt, referencing the recent College Opportunity Summit.
He also advocated for allowing graduates students to cap their student loan payment at 10 percent of their income.
“I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt,” Obama said.
Revelations exposing the extent of the nation’s online surveillance programs from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have lingered in the media spotlight. Obama promised to reform the programs.
“The vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated,” Obama said.
MSU’s College Democrats president Rawley Van Fossen said he was pleased with the President’s address, and placed blame for the rising price of higher education on the Republican-controlled House.
College Republicans president Will Staal said Obama’s address was just a reiteration of unkept promises, and his policies have done little to improve access to higher education.
“It wasn’t very combative,” Staal said. “It seemed to me a president trying to revive his credibility with the nation. He didn’t touch on that many controversial topics. He touched on things that poll well with the left (wing) to get his party base behind him before he becomes a lame duck president.”