WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address is calling for an increase of the federal minimum wage to $9-a-hour--up from $7.25--and a boost from the $8.25 rate imposed on Illinois employers--part of his drive to bolster the middle class.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, Obama was expected to focus most of his speech on his second term domestic priorities, announcing a string of economic initiatives. Obama intends to underscore his proposals to lift up the working poor in Chicago on Friday, a senior administration official said.
Obama is also expected to push Congress to pass measures to curb gun violence and will invoke the name of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton, shot and killed on Jan. 29 in Harsh Park, about a mile from the Obama family Kenwood home. Her parents, Cleopatra and Nathaniel, watched Obama deliver the speech in the House chamber, sitting next to First Lady Michelle Obama.
Turning to the economy, Obama--pitching Republicans as well as the nation--said he wanted government to work "smarter," not grow bigger.
"It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country - the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love," Obama is expected to say.
Obama reiterated his calls for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and measures to reduce gun violence--topics he has much discussed in recent weeks--returning to the economy, a topic he barely mention in his Jan. 21 inauguration speech.
Plowing new ground Obama was expected to call for:
*Boosting the federal minimum wage in stages to $9 by the end of 2015, which would impact 15 million workers. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, in his State of the State address last week, called for raising the state base pay of $8.25 to $10-an-hour over the next four years. Obama is expected to make a significant push for the increase, expected to face tough opposition. Quinn also faces a very tough sell.
*Expanding pre-school opportunities for every low-and-moderate income child in the nation, much more ambitious then the current Head Start programs serving only the very poor.
*More clean energy research through the establishment of an "Energy Security Trust" to wean the nation from oil and gas, especially from foreign sources. The trust would be funded through oil and gas extracted from federal land and offshore.
*Rebuilding crumbling infrastructures--bridges and roads--through a "Fix-It First" program, with $40 billion for the upgrades needed the most. Of interest to Chicago and the state of Illinois, this could pump more money to the area for more long term funding for highways, rail and public transit. This would be financed in large part through the money saved by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
*The launching of 15 "Manufacturing Innovation Institutes" nationwide with a $1 billion investment to build partnerships between communities, governments, business, colleges and universities to help U.S. manufacturers. A pilot institute is up and running in Youngstown, Ohio. Obama will use his executive authority to three more institutes started this year.
*The creation of 20 experimental "Promise Zones" across the country to cut every piece of red tape to leverage private investment, create jobs, expand education opportunities, increase low-cost housing and cut crime. Obama is expected to highlight this during his Chicago visit.
*Improving cybersecurity through more information sharing through private-public partnerships.
*Addressing a string of voter problems in the November election, Obama is creating a bi-partisan election commission to be co-chaired by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, lawyers who advised the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns.
*Reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 34,000 by this time next year, a decrease from the 66,000 now posted there. The goal is to continue to withdraw soldiers so that by 2014, Afghans take full responsibility for their security.
This keeps the U.S. and NATO on a timetable--much discussed at the NATO Summit in Chicago last year--to bring the Afghanistan war to an end by the close of 2014.