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COLUMN: Stalemates in Congress don’t actually help anyone

The Book of Paul


Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 22:01

For the past five years, President Barack Obama has spoken to Congress and the nation in his winter State of the Union addresses. While he has sought Congress’s cooperation in forging a pathway of bipartisanship, his pleas have been largely ignored by the majority of U.S. representatives.

And where has that left our nation's citizens? Quite simply, we've been children caught in the middle of feuding parents, watching as both sides ignore each other and attempt to raise us using completely different methods. This process has left us victim to a bevy of good intentions that never got wrapped up — immigration reform, improving education, regulations on and background checks of potential gun buyers and a raised minimum wage that could serve as a living wage.

All of these topics have fallen by the wayside, but the president's Tuesday address was different, and, hopefully, effective.

Obama brought to light an obvious fact many of us don't — or possibly refuse to — see. Congress, with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives that exhibits unfaltering opposition, has become the end of the road for discussion on economic improvement, the combat of income inequality and entitlement programs for citizens in need. Rather than keep butting heads with the resistant body, Obama vowed to focus on actions that can be implemented through executive orders, bypassing Congress altogether if it fails to reach a compromise.

"The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress," Obama said. "For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate — one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy — when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States — then we are not doing right by the American people."

With 168 executive orders signed by Obama since 2009 — compared to George W. Bush's 291, Ronald Reagan's 381 and Richard Nixon's 346 — the process is nothing new to the administration, but now such actions are more crucial than before. His No. 1 responsibility is to the benefit and prosperity of the American people, and he is obligated to use whatever means necessary — be it bipartisan agreement or circumvention of Congressional Republicans dragging their feet — to ensure the country breaks free of all-too-common stalemates.

Many of Obama's potential executive actions would make a difference, but none so noticeably as a raised minimum wage. While it might be thought that raising pay for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour only benefits a small percentage of citizens, such an action places pressure on other types of businesses to also increase their employee wages, adding incentive for increased productivity and workplace morale.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, have worked on a bill to extend this minimum wage raise to the rest of the country, Obama said.

"This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend,” he said. “It doesn't involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise."

In Utah, this would mean a raise of $2.85 per hour from the current $7.25 minimum wage. While this isn't the gain many Democrats hope for, it's certainly not the economy-breaking figure most Republicans have imagined.

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