Obama to Focus on Income Disparities 12/04 07:27
Amid public doubts over his stewardship of the economy, President Barack
Obama is putting a renewed focus on the income gap between rich and poor as he
pushes for short-term congressional action and begins setting the domestic
agenda for the remainder of his presidency.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Amid public doubts over his stewardship of the economy,
President Barack Obama is putting a renewed focus on the income gap between
rich and poor as he pushes for short-term congressional action and begins
setting the domestic agenda for the remainder of his presidency.
The president plans to deliver an address Wednesday to argue his case that
income inequality and wage stagnation are threatening upward mobility and
retirement security. The speech comes amid growing national and international
attention to economic disparities --- from the writings of Pope Francis to the
protests of fast-food workers in the U.S.
Obama is not expected to propose any new policy initiatives. But the White
House says he will reiterate his call for an increase in the minimum wage and
promote possible economic benefits of the troubled health care law. Obama also
is expected to call on Congress to make a deal on 2014 spending, pass a farm
bill with enough money for food stamps and extend unemployment insurance for
the long-term unemployed before the end of the year.
Polls show that the economy remains the single biggest concern for
Americans, despite the recent focus on problems with the health care law. While
some economic indicators are showing positive trends, unemployment remains high
at 7.3 percent.
Moreover, the speech comes at a low point for the president. A recent CBS
News poll shows that 60 percent of adults disapprove of his handling of the
economy, the highest in nearly two years.
Setting the tone for his State of the Union address early next year, Obama
is expected to highlight policy priorities that he has previously called for,
including attracting businesses from overseas, simplifying the tax code,
spending on infrastructure, improving education to compete for high-tech jobs
and making college more affordable.
Those ideas have been recurrent themes in Obama's economic agenda, but most
have failed to materialize.
Obama has attempted to include some of those policies in past negotiations
with Republicans for a comprehensive budget deal that would lower long-term
deficits, raise revenue and increase upfront spending to spur the economy. But
those efforts have failed and current budget negotiations between congressional
Democrats and Republicans are far less ambitious.
"The economy is elemental to most Americans, and it is the principal focus
of this presidency," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, noting that
Obama inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression in 2009. "We've
seen sustained economic growth and job creation for a long time now. But we are
not where we need to be."
Obama is expected to press Congress to strike a deal that at least softens
the blow of automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to kick in after Jan.
15. He also is expected to call for a renewal of jobless benefits for 1.3
million long-term unemployed people that expire just three days after
Christmas. The additional weeks of benefits have been extended each year since
2009, but a senior Republican lawmaker, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said Tuesday
that Republicans oppose yet another extension.
Wednesday's speech is sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a think
tank with close ties to the White House. It is the latest in a series of Obama
addresses focused on the challenges of attaining the American dream, from a
2005 commencement address at tiny Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., to his
speech in Osawatomie, Kan., in late 2011, to a return address at Knox College
The speech comes near the end of the first year of Obama's second term, with
few domestic legislative achievements and plenty of upheaval, including the
problem-plagued launch of the health care website, brinkmanship over the
nation's borrowing limit, a government shutdown, spying revelations and the use
of chemical weapons in Syria.
Economic inequality has been getting new attention lately, however. Pope
Francis, in a wide-ranging church document last month, denounced the global
financial system, specifically attacking trickle-down economic theories as
unproven and naive. Meanwhile, fast-food workers in about 100 cities planned to
walk off the job Thursday, organizers say, as part of a yearlong push to
highlight the difficulties of living on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an
While the United States continues to recover modestly from the recession,
unemployment and wages indicate the growth is not reaching all households.
"We need to be mindful of the inequality problem, which is as embedded as
ever in our economy," said Jared Bernstein, a fellow at the Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities and former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
He said that while some signs of economic recovery are beginning to follow
historic trends, "we never had the burst of growth before settling back into
trend that you associate with deep recessions in our past."
"We settled into the trend before we repaired the damage," he said.