The GOP Will Feel the Heat on Income Inequality

Obama's State of the Union address provides him with a chance to lambaste the GOP about the minimum wage.

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During President Barack Obama's fifth year in office, 82 percent of Democrats and just 11 percent of Republicans approved of the job he was doing, marking a 71 percent partisan gap, according to a Gallup polling analysis released Thursday.

Presidential scholar Richard Neustadt once wrote, "presidential power is the power to persuade." President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday will be the best platform he will have this year to influence public opinion and pressure Congress.

The president has been testing his ideas for his State of the Union address for weeks now. He has made it clear that he plans to do everything he can to break through congressional gridlock and move the country forward. And the best way for the president to move things along is to use his executive powers.

Using his executive powers, the president could and should issue an order to all the agencies in the executive branch that would require them to only hire contractors who pay their employees a higher minimum wage. A small number of the people who work for federal government contractors, aka the "Beltway Bandits," are highly-paid specialists, but thousands of them are janitors, cleaning people and other service employees who work in low-wage jobs. The order would not cover most businesses, but it would pressure companies who do business with the public sector to raise the wages of their poorly paid employees.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

In addition to putting his executive powers to full use, the president will call upon Congress to get its act together to deal with the problems that face the United States. I expect the president will ask Congress Monday night to approve his proposals to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and to enact a law that will reform the broken immigration system and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented Americans.

President Obama has made it clear in the last few months that he believes income inequality is one of the biggest threats to the American way of life, and most Americans agree. In a poll released Wednesday by USA Today and the Pew Research Center, two in three Americans said the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years. Six in ten Republicans feel the same way. Data from the same national poll also indicated that people believe poverty is more a function of factors beyond a person's control (50 percent) than lack of effort (35 percent).

Raising the minimum wage would address this problem. If you increase wages, you also reduce the income gap and raise millions of Americans out of poverty. Dr. Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has crunched the numbers and found that an increase in the minimum wage would reduce the poverty rate among working Americans by 1.7 percent. That increase in wages would lift 5 million Americans out of poverty. The fewer poor people there are, the less money the federal government needs for financial programs to aid the poor.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

A year ago, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus released a postmortem on the Republican losses in 2012. Priebus called for his party to expand what used to be Ronald Reagan's "big tent." He emphasized the need for Republicans to appeal to Hispanic voters.

The Hispanic population is growing by leaps and bounds while the white population is stagnant. So every year Latinos become a bigger part of the American electorate. But congressional Republicans have responded to their chairman's challenge by doing anything and everything they can to block immigration reform. Monday night, the president will push them to do the right thing.

The GOP is its own worst enemy. The president's job approval rating may be low (40 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll), but his approval is in the stratosphere compared to approval for congressional Republicans (17 percent). And that's hardly a surprise, because hapless Republicans can't even help themselves.

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