Monday, January 26, 2015

The 2015 State of the Union Address

President Obama delivers the 2015 State of the Union Address to Congress
 Photo from Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images 
A Look at Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address
 - by Dr. Jay Wendland 

On Tuesday, January 20, Barack Obama delivered his 6th State of the Union [SOTU] Address in front of both houses of Congress. The SOTU is constitutionally mandated, so every year we are given the President’s take on where he hopes Congress will focus its efforts over the following year. Usually we hear a laundry list of policies and programs the President would like to see implemented; however, this year was a bit different. While we did hear a number of policies Obama would like passed, we mostly heard a positive speech on how the United States can work together and make the country better. He went back to the speech he gave at the 2004 Democratic presidential nominating convention (Obama’s first time in the national spotlight) in which he stated that there is not a red America and a blue America, but rather the United States of America.

Obama laid out plans for what he believes will make America prosper over time. He called on Congress to focus on “middle class economics,” with the goal being to help working class families get through the economic pains many are feeling. Part of his plan is making community college free for all students who wish to attend. The goal here is to get Americans the education they need to succeed in the workplace. By ensuring everyone has access to this level of education, Obama believes this will better prepare U.S. citizens for the ever-changing workforce. Obama also called for increasing the minimum wage nationwide. Some states have already increased their minimum wage (New York increased its minimum wage from $8/hour to $8.75/hour as of Jan. 1) and Obama has issued an executive order increasing the minimum wage for federal employees to $10.10/hour. However, Obama must rely on Congress to increase national minimum wage which is currently set at $7.25/hour. In his call to Congress, Obama stated that if any Congress member believes he or she could survive on $15,000 per year (the annual salary for someone making $7.25/hour), then he or she ought to “Try it!” A final part of Obama’s call to focus on the middle class was paid maternity leave and earned sick leave. He called on Congress to pass a bill allowing for 6 weeks of paid maternity leave and the ability of any worker to earn paid sick days. We are the only democratic country in the world that does not allow for paid maternity leave, something Obama has now called on Congress to change. Further, because not all workers are able to earn paid sick leave, many are forced to choose between staying home with a sick child or going to work and forcing a sick child to go to school or daycare. 

Obviously we will see debate and argument about most of these policies and ideas throughout the upcoming year. In fact, because Obama is a Democrat and both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans we will probably see a lot more fighting than normal. In her Republican response to the SOTU, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) reiterated that the Republicans won in the midterm elections last November (Ernst being one of these recent victors) and their ideas ought to be given attention rather than Obama’s ideas. The American public spoke in November and they voiced strong support for Republican reform, Ernst argued. Taking into account both the SOTU and the Republican response, we can see quite clearly that we are in for a lot of partisan fighting over the next two years. 

Those wanting a look at Obama’s SOTU Address can view the full transcript here.

Dr. Jay Wendland received his doctorate from the University of Arizona, School of Government and Public Policy and specializes in campaigning, elections and voter behavior. In his courses, Dr. Wendland emphasize the importance of an active, involved electorate. His blog post reminds us that elections matter, and that it is our responsibility and duty as citizens to be informed. 

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