Obama's Vision Slams into Political Reality ; Republicans Are Quick to Reject His Call for Higher Minimum Wage

By Mark Landler; Jonathan Weisman | International Herald Tribune, February 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Obama's Vision Slams into Political Reality ; Republicans Are Quick to Reject His Call for Higher Minimum Wage


Mark Landler; Jonathan Weisman, International Herald Tribune


As the president took to the road to sell his second-term agenda, Republicans and even some Democrats expressed doubt about whether ideas like raising the minimum wage would ever be enacted.

The day after President Barack Obama charted an expansive new view of the government's role in U.S. society, it seemed less and less likely that many of his proposals would survive the political riptide on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, as Mr. Obama took to the road and visited a Canadian engine-parts factory near Asheville to sell his vision, Republicans and even some Democrats expressed doubt about whether plans to raise the minimum wage or provide universal access to prekindergarten would ever be enacted -- especially on top of ambitious White House efforts on gun violence and immigration.

Mr. Obama chose a politically friendly corner of Republican- leaning North Carolina to promote the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing, one of the central messages of a State of the Union speech that also included initiatives on education and energy.

"What's happening here is happening all around the country," Mr. Obama said against a backdrop of three hulking engine blocks. "Just as it's becoming more and more expensive to do business in places like China, America is getting more competitive."

The far-reaching nature of the president's agenda took lawmakers from both parties by surprise, even though it built on his assertive Inaugural Address. Republicans, whose policies are focused on deficit reduction, reacted incredulously.

"It's not like we've solved all of the problems we're working on now so we have to be looking for other things," said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. "The federal government taking over prekindergarten programs in America? The federal government deciding Washington, D.C., is the best place to administer elections? I don't see it."

Some Democrats counseled that the presidential wish list laid out Tuesday night should not be taken literally in a suspicious Capitol.

"You can disagree with the president, but you cannot say he has no vision, no dreams or aspirations for this country, and that's what he was laying out," said Representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York.

Asheville was the first of three stops in a campaign-style swing that has become a tradition after the State of the Union speech. Speaking to a sympathetic audience of factory workers, Mr. Obama played up his proposed increase in the national minimum wage, to $9 an hour from $7.25. "If you work full time," he said, "you shouldn't be in poverty."

Yet even in stronger economic times, minimum wage increases have been heavy political lifts. The last increase passed in 2007, after Democrats swept to control of Congress, and even then it had to be tacked onto an Iraq war financing and Hurricane Katrina relief law.

Republicans swiftly rejected Mr. Obama's latest attempt, saying it would only exacerbate the jobless rate.

"I've been dealing with the minimum wage issue for the last 28 years that I've been in elected office," the speaker of the House of Representatives, John A. Boehner, said Wednesday. "And when you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it."

Democrats, however, said that after a first term marked by failed outreach to Republicans, Mr. Obama appeared intent on marshaling support outside Washington to bring pressure to bear inside. That could yield different results from those of the past two frustrating years, said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

If nothing else, the president's push gives Democratic senators something to do after they tackle gun violence and immigration. …

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