Experts respond to president's State of the Union address

01/29/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: SOTU, State of the Union, Barack Obama, immigration, Edwin Enciso, Darryl Paulson

President Barack Obama has used his fifth State of the Union address last night to tell lawmakers that he's still willing to work with Congress. But Obama said he'll sidestep obstructionist lawmakers "whenever and wherever" necessary to reduce the wage gap between rich and poor. One executive action he'll take is to increase the minimum wage for some federal contract workers to a minimum of $10.10. He’ll also implement a new Treasury savings bond for workers without access to traditional retirement options. Darryl Paulson is a professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Pete. He said the president’s speech may be a kick to Democrats looking to maintain a majority in the Senate and possibly gain one in the House. Paulson’s reasoning is based on Obama’s dismal approval ratings in a political environment where he says many Americans are looking for more bi-partisanship; not a president who bi-passes Congress.

"What he proposed last night was () executive orders or executive actions. In fact he proposed twelve different policies in the speech last night where he was either going to put this into effect by picking up his pen and signing these executive orders or putting them in some sort of executive action which means he talked a lot about different forms () at stimulating the economy or changing college education by bringing together the leaders or bringing together business leaders to deal with the issue of long term unemployment. That in itself creates a political problem not only for the President, I think, but for his own party. Because executive orders are very controversial. Every president uses them but to use them so extensively really raises some questions and especially at this time. The American public has said they're looking for cooperation between the branches of government, they're looking for bi-partisanship and here's the President giving the message last night that he said this was going to be a () of action, with or without Congress and meaning that he'll put this into effect by himself if he has to."

Immigration was expected to be one of many focal points in the State of the Union Address, but Obama only spent about 2% of his hour-long speech on the issue.

While immigration reform advocates are happy progress is being made to approve a bi-partisan effort to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, Edwin Enciso, an organizer for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, said he wasn’t happy with the president’s brevity.

"I think that there were opportunities to talk about, besides the economic angle, the security angle. I think there was the opportunity to also talk about how we bear responsibility, as a country, for a system that incentivises businesses to just take a look at the fines that they pay which is nothing as a sort of cost of doing business and being part of what creates this system of immigration that now has 11 million people who are undocumented in the country. This doesn't happen by accident."

Some critics of immigration reform you hear words like 'amnesty', 'border patrol', these things that you think he should have addressed perhaps pointing out that there isn't amnesty, that there is an emphasis on increased border patrol, what are your thoughts on that?

"I think that it's very clear that the project of border security has failed on immigration reform in the same way that it's failed with the drug war. Or the war on drugs, the supposed war on drugs. When you understand that there's a demand that draws in these human resources, just like there's a demand that draws in illegal drugs, there isn't a border security design that you can make for the country that's going to stop illicit drugs. How then do you expect some border security scheme to stop human beings which are obviously much more intelligent, craftier than a material component like a drug?"

He got a pretty positive response, it seems like, from those who were there watching. It seemed it was a bi-partisan sort of standing ovation, any positive feelings that came from that response?

"When I see that the President being bi-partisan that's what I expect. He's got to find a coalition that's big enough to win and to keep all the different pieces of it, you know, with immigration reform we have the stem (), we have another big part of it is the conservative moderates that are supporting our position, we have the Chamber of Commerce, we have labor. Of course we have the farm workers, we have the dreamers but if you think that you can design policy based on just one of those constituencies than you're not really a believer in democracy. You want to be a servant of a particular minority but the way that we move things forward in this country is by identifying, at least within the political system is by identifying a coalition that has enough strength and enough interest to win."

President Obama also called for equal pay for women and reiterated his commitment to pull troops from Afghanistan during his State of the Union address last night.

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