Women’s Economic Concerns Take Center Stage in State of the Union
The annual State of the Union address creates Super-Bowl-like buzz and Vegas-worthy forecasting in our nation’s capital. This year’s speech was no different when it came to anticipation and prognostications, but it also featured one added spice: It was President Barack Obama’s first speech before the newly minted, Republican-controlled Congress.
The annual address provides every president with a chance to boast about progress made and goals met, as well as to highlight next steps and advocate for upcoming budget proposals. Rather than offer granular plans, President Obama gave a more optimistic, sweeping address — a speech some pundits are calling one of his most confident since 2008. This year, the president decided to go big.
America, for all that we’ve endured, for all the grit and hard work required to come back, for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the Union is strong. At this moment, with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy production, we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years and for decades to come. … So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.
The White House not only went big, but it also approached the whole speech and the SOTU frenzy quite differently. In an effort to stir pre-game anticipation, as well as to demonstrate his relevancy amongst lame-duck speculation, President Obama gave sneak peeks through a weeklong, rapid-fire rollout of proposals. Thus, a lot of the big highlights were revealed before the speech — which itself was released 15 minutes before he actually delivered it. The deeper details won’t be revealed until the release of the administration’s February 2 budget proposal.
Over the past week and during the speech itself, the president urged Congress to support reforms that will provide concrete economic benefits to women and their families — working toward equal pay, expanding care tax credits, establishing paid sick days and paid family leave, making college more accessible and affordable, improving retirement savings, raising the minimum wage, and making investments in education. These kinds of so-called “kitchen table” economic concerns, in fact, composed the lion’s share of the State of the Union and were seen by many as a foreshadowing of the 2016 presidential election.
So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works, expanding opportunity works, and these policies will continue to work as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.
During last year’s State of the Union, President Obama made it clear that if Congress didn’t start legislating, he would put pen to paper and take executive and regulatory action — not to mention using his bully pulpit — wherever he could. He made good on that promise, productively addressing many AAUW priorities, such as equal pay, Title IX, campus sexual assault, marriage equality, and other issues. Last night, the president doubled down on the idea of taking unilateral action if congressional intransigence continues and upped the ante via state-based pilot programs with alliances outside Washington. This outside-the-Beltway focus is smart; the 2014 election saw the same public that sent new Republican majorities to Congress also vote in favor of paid sick days, raising the minimum wage, gun control measures, and other issues antithetical to many members of the new congressional majority.
While making an impassioned case for bipartisanship and real collaboration on big-ticket problems such as tax reform and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, President Obama also drew some lines in the sand by metaphorically waving his veto pen. This will be a delicate balance to maintain, especially in the last two years of a presidency that has seen his party’s congressional numbers seriously erode. However, in many respects, while the speech certainly showed a roadmap for where this president would like to take the country, it also was very much a pitch to the Republicans — and the nation — that President Obama is ready to make a deal if they are. With both the president and the new Republican majorities clearly articulating the need to get back to the business of governing, should they actually embrace that mantra, there is the potential ahead for two very interesting years.
AAUW’s Lisa Maatz was at the White House to watch in person as President Barack Obama signed two executive orders that will help address the gender pay gap.
On Election Day, AAUW’s and friends’ voices were heard loud and clear on ballot initiatives on issues including the minimum wage, paid sick days, and equal rights.
A special White House task force just released its report and recommendations focused on ending sexual assault on campus.