The president's call on Tuesday night to increase the minimum wage and expand universal pre-kindergarten for all children were progressive proposals that made Democrats rejoice. But can they pass in a time of extreme partisanship? And how?
The most dramatic moment of the State of the Union speech was the president's passionate plea to Congress that victims of gun violence "deserve a vote."
As his voice rose in a crescendo and the survivors stood, he demanded Congress give them an up-or-down vote on gun control measures.
"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," Obama said, the crowd rising with thunderous applause at the mention of her name. "The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence -- they deserve a simple vote."
That tactic, says Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, is how the president will force votes on not only his gun control proposals but others -- increasing the minimum wage and universal pre-kindergarten.
"What the president did last night that was brilliant," Green said. "My guess is he will barnstorm around the country making an emotionally persuasive case …. If he is successful on the gun fight, he can get Republicans to cave on other important policy fights."
"The precedent is set," Green explained. "If there is a scheduled vote that allows Democrats and Republicans to join forces [on gun control] then why not other issues? Why not give it a fair vote? It won't be a wonky issue, it will be an idea that we just had a national conversation about."
But, what is the controversy over issues that seem so palatable like universal preschool for four year olds and increasing the minimum wage? For opponents it's just spending more money the country doesn't have, and that means it will be difficult to get a vote called for either proposal -- never mind the votes to get it passed.
Increasing the Minimum Wage
On Wednesday, the president hit the road in support of increasing the minimum wage, but House Speaker John Boehner spoke out against it saying he's been dealing with the issue for 28 years and it just will stall employment.
"When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it," Boehner said. "At a time when Americans are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?,' why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people? Listen, I've got 11 brothers and sisters on every rung of the economic ladder. I know about this issue as much as anybody in this town, and what happens when you take away the first couple of rungs on the economic ladder, you make it harder for people to get on the ladder. "
Specifically, the president called for an increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour by 2015. The last time it was raised, in 2009, it was increased from $6.55 to $7.25, which translates to $15,080 a year for a fulltime worker. It was the last step of a three part increase approved by Congress in 2007. Before 2007, the minimum wage remained at $5.15 per hour for 10 years. Currently there are campaigns in states around the country – including New York, Maryland, Connecticut and New Mexico -- to lobby at the state level for an increase in the state minimum wage.