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Boehner, Republicans Warn Obama Not to Exceed Authority

Boehner, Republicans Warn Obama Not to Exceed Authority

By    |   Tuesday, 28 January 2014 11:06 AM

House Speaker John Boehner says President Barack Obama likely has the authority to raise the minimum wage for new federal contract workers. But the speaker warned against any other unilateral steps that could encroach on the Constitution.

Boehner told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday that a unilateral increase in the minimum wage is bad policy that will cost low-income Americans their jobs. He says that will hurt the people the president intends to help.

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The Ohio Republican said the GOP will be watching Obama to ensure he doesn't exceed his authority with other executive actions. Boehner said the president took an oath to obey the tenets of the Constitution.

Pressed on what steps Republicans might take, Boehner said there are unspecified options that the GOP will discuss at their annual retreat this week.

Boehner's comments came as word leaked out that Obama will raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. Obama is issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers with new contracts, the White House said.

In his State of the Union address, Obama will also call on Congress to pass a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 and index that to inflation going forward.

The executive order, though, does not cover the millions of employees who work for the the federal government — only those who work through new or existing contracts in which terms are being changed that would take effect at the beginning of next year.

Issuing the order allows Obama to bypass Congress in a limited way, with Republicans opposed to a broad increase in the minimum wage. At most, the order covers several hundred thousand workers like janitors and other contract employees.

Obama and his advisers have signaled for weeks that the president would take a more active role in using his pen and phone to sign orders that do not require lawmaker approval and cajole others to back his priorities.

Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday that Obama needed Congress to pass immigration reform and extend unemployment insurance but that the president would make clear that he would not be patient with lawmakers in areas where he did not need them.

"The president ... is not going to tell the American people that he's going to wait for Congress," Pfeiffer said on CNN's Sunday morning "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" program.

"He's going to move forward in areas like job training, education, manufacturing, on his own to try to restore opportunity for American families," Pfeiffer said.

Republicans have said simply, "Bring it on."

"It sounds vaguely like a threat and I think it also has a certain amount of arrogance in the sense that one of the fundamental principles of our country were the checks and balances," Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, said on CNN.

"Welcome to the real world. It's hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus. But that's what he needs to be doing, is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law," he said.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, said his party wanted to work with the president on free-trade agreements and would be willing to extend unemployment benefits as long as doing so did not add to the national debt.

"The president has sort of hung out on a limb and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy as opposed to moving to the political center," McConnell told "Fox News Sunday."

"We're anxious to help him create jobs, but we're not going to go over and endorse more spending, more debt, more taxes and more regulation."

The president will deliver a split message tonight, pressing issues that will distinguish him and Democrats from Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections.

Even as he argues that low income Americans and many in the middle class lack the means to achieve upward mobility, Obama will also feel compelled to take credit for an economy that by many indicators is gaining strength under his watch. As a result, he will talk positively about a recovery that remains elusive to many Americans.

Some Democrats are warning Obama to tread carefully.

"We hope that he does not dwell on the successes of the economy, which may be apparent in employment statistics, the GDP and stock market gains, but which are not felt by folks at the grocery store," Democratic political analysts James Carville and Stan Greenberg wrote in a recent strategy memo.

The president will present Congress with an agenda largely unchanged from what he called for a year ago, but one that nonetheless fits neatly into this year's economic opportunity theme. He will continue to seek an overhaul of immigration laws, an increase in the minimum wage and expanded preschool education.

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But after a year in which those proposals languished and gun control failed, the White House is eager to avoid letting Obama be defined by quixotic ambitions. As a result, he will stress success through executive actions, though their reach would be far more modest than what he could achieve through legislation.

"Congress is slow to action and we're not going to wait for that," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in an interview on "CBS This Morning."

He told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday that Obama is not concerned about his public approval ratings as he enters the sixth year of his presidency: "The president doesn't come down to work every day or go up to the residence every night worried about poll numbers."

Obama's biggest and most lasting accomplishment of his second term could be immigration legislation. House Republican leaders lately have sent signals that they are willing to act on piecemeal legislation, and Obama has given them room to work without prodding.

How immigration gets resolved will depend much on what the House is able to pass and if and how it can be reconciled with bipartisan Senate legislation that passed last year. Conservatives are pushing back against any bill that gives legal status to immigrants who are in the country illegally. And some Democrats would prefer to use the unresolved issue to mobilize Hispanic voters for this year's midterm elections.

Eager not to be limited by legislative gridlock, Obama on Tuesday is also expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security, and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work.

Among them is a new retirement savings plan geared toward workers whose employers don't currently offer such plans. The program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds that eventually could be converted into traditional IRAs, according to two people who have discussed the proposal with the administration, but weren't authorized to discuss it ahead of the announcement and insisted on anonymity.

"Tomorrow night, it's time to restore opportunity for all," Obama said Monday on the video-sharing site Vine, part of the White House's broad social media promotion of the speech.

The White House says the hike in minimum pay for federal contract workers would most benefit janitors and construction workers working under new federal contracts, as well as military base workers who wash dishes, serve food and do laundry. The White House says contractors will have time to take the higher minimum wage into account when pricing their bids.

Obama's go-it-alone approach has already irritated Republicans, some of whom claim he is pushing the limits of the Constitution.

"We have a minimum wage. Congress has set it. For the president to simply declare 'I'm going to change this law that has passed' is unconstitutional," Rep. Steve King, an Iowa  Republican, said Tuesday on CNN.

The approach, some Republicans say, could also backfire by angering GOP leaders who already don't trust Obama's administration.

"The more he tries to do it alone and do confrontation, the less he's going to be able to get cooperation," said John Feehery, a former top House Republican aide.

Obama will follow his State of the Union address with a quick trip Wednesday and Thursday to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Tennessee to promote his proposals.

On Friday, Obama will hold an event at the White House where he'll announce commitments from several companies to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed during hiring.

Following tradition, the White House has invited several people to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday night's address. Among them are General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Cristian Avila of Phoenix, an immigrant who, with two younger siblings, was brought to the United States illegally when Avila was 9. Now 23, Avila is one of the so-called Dreamers who have benefited from an Obama policy allowing young people who immigrated illegally with their parents to avoid deportation.

Other guests include two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and Jason Collins, an openly gay former NBA player. 

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House Speaker John Boehner says President Barack Obama likely has the authority to raise the minimum wage for new federal contract workers. But the speaker warned against any other unilateral steps that could encroach on the Constitution.
Tuesday, 28 January 2014 11:06 AM
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