Obama talks up minimum wage hike, health care law

BY Terence Burlij  December 5, 2013 at 9:15 AM EDT


Fast food workers in 100 cities are expected to walk off the job in protest Thursday. In this file photo from April, a McDonald’s worker chants during a protest for better wages in Harlem. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

President Barack Obama on Wednesday outlined a sweeping populist agenda for the three years he has left in office, making the case that government cannot “stand on the sidelines” when it comes to addressing the issue of economic inequality.

“In fact, that’s our generation’s task — to rebuild America’s economic and civic foundation to continue the expansion of opportunity for this generation and the next generation,” the president said during remarks at an arts and education center in a working-class neighborhood not far from the nation’s capital.

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The address hit similar notes to those in a speech the president gave nearly two years ago in Osawatomie, Kan., where he called restoring economic fairness the “defining issue of our time.”

Mr. Obama’s comments Wednesday were delivered in the face of growing public skepticism about the ability of the government to do big things following the botched rollout of a key part of the health care law. Despite those problems, the president said pushing to reform the country’s healthcare system was the right thing to do.

“More people without insurance have gained insurance — more than 3 million young Americans who have been able to stay on their parents’ plan, the more than half a million Americans and counting who are poised to get covered starting on January 1, some for the very first time,” the president said. “And it is these numbers — not the ones in any poll — that will ultimately determine the fate of this law.”

The president also renewed his call to raise the federal minimum wage ahead of protests planned Thursday in about 100 cities where fast-food workers are expected to walk off the job.

“I’m going to keep pushing until we get a higher minimum wage for hard-working Americans across the entire country,” Mr. Obama said. “It will be good for our economy. It will be good for our families.”

Mr. Obama also took aim at the “elephant in the room” of gridlock in Washington. He said while a divided Congress may never resolve all of its differences, “it is important that we have a serious debate about these issues.”

“For the longer that current trends are allowed to continue, the more it will feed the cynicism and fear that many Americans are feeling right now — that they’ll never be able to repay the debt they took on to go to college, they’ll never be able to save enough to retire, they’ll never see their own children land a good job that supports a family,” he said. Watch the speech in full here.

As we pointed out Wednesday in this space, the White House sees the focus on the middle class and income inequality as a lead-up to the president’s 2014 State of the Union address to Congress.

But it’s worth noting that this marks 10 months since he made similar calls for a minimum wage hike in his 2013 State of the Union address and went on the road to push the idea. And there’s been little movement. House Republicans voted down a proposal in March that would have raised the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour.

The president tackled health care at a second event Wednesday as well, imploring young people to be “smarter than that” when it comes to signing up for health insurance.

“My suspicion is, for a lot of you, between your cable bill, your phone bill, you’re spending more than $100 a month,” he told the White House Youth Summit Wednesday at the White House.

He specifically asked the young leaders to spread the word through their student events and through their social networks. “Post something on your Facebook or Instagram. You can tweet using the hashtag ‘get covered.’ But do whatever it takes to make sure that people have the information they need to make the decision that’s right for them,” Mr. Obama said. Watch the speech in full here.

The comments came as a new poll of 18- to 29-year-olds found the millennial generation is deeply skeptical about the Affordable Care Act. Politics Desk Assistant Aileen Graef summarized the poll here and Judy Woodruff interviewed Harvard University’s Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe about the trends his survey revealed.

Watch the segment here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • CQ’s Adriel Bettelheim reports in his morning newsletter that top budget negotiators Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan are continuing to meet in private instead of with the 29-member conference committee tasked with crafting a deal by next Friday. To avoid seeking approval from that group, Murray and Ryan may “nail down a budget plan in the form of legislation instead of a conference agreement,” CQ reports. The deal forming could stretch to fund all of fiscal 2015, “a significant breakthrough after several years of stalemate on budget issues, and it would allow lawmakers to turn to other matters such as a potential tax overhaul.”
  • Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur has more budget details here and Jake Sherman and John Bresnehan report for Politico that a sticking point is whether to raise retirement benefit payments for federal workers.
  • Officials told reporters Wednesday that more people signed up for plans through HealthCare.gov on Sunday and Monday than during the entire month of October.
  • House Speaker John Boehner defended the GOP agenda and said on the House floor that Democrats are the problem causing a ‘do-nothing Congress’ this year.
  • The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani have the latest from leaked documents via Edward Snowden that suggest the National Security Agency “is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world … enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.”
  • Politico has two big-deal stories on how the Republicans are approaching the midterm elections. John Bresnahan and Anna Palmer report that the National Republican Congressional Committee is meeting with top aides to sitting Republicans to teach them what to say — or not to say — on the campaign trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman, to avoid any major mishaps that could cost the GOP a seat. And Austin Wright and Jake Sherman report that Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes is pushing the House GOP campaign arm to deny support for some of the party’s gay congressional candidates.
  • Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad has the skinny on a nasty Alaska Senate primary.
  • The Hill’s Amie Parnes has details of a secret meeting between the White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.
  • Elizabeth Warren dismissed talk of a potential 2016 presidential bid on Wednesday, pledging to serve out her Senate term, which ends in 2019.
  • Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., released a new television ad Wednesday highlighting the influence of the Bible in his life. “This is my compass. My North Star. It gives me comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas,” Pryor says in the spot while holding a Bible in his hands.
  • The campaign for GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, Pryor’s likely opponent in next year’s race, criticized the National Republican Senatorial Committee for attacking the Democratic incumbent over the new ad.
  • The state assembly in Wisconsin approved a measure Wednesday backed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker to give residents in the state who are losing their Medicaid coverage three additional months to find a private plan. Republican said the delay was needed because of the problems with the rollout of the federal health care law. Democrats objected to the proposal, saying it would delay some 83,000 childless adults below poverty from getting Medicaid until April.
  • The Associated Press reports that the U.S. military will stop sharing information with the public about hunger strikes at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
  • The recount in the Virginia attorney general contest will begin on Dec. 16.
  • The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson finds outgoing Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell is “feeling the weight of an ongoing investigation into his relationship with a wealthy donor who gave McDonnell gifts and loans,” an end-of-term disappointment both “heartbreaking and humbling.”
  • Outgoing Virginia lieutenant governor Bill Bolling penned an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch that gives recommendations to his party. Among other things, he calls for an end to the closed party primary that allowed state Republicans to nominated his political rival, Ken Cuccinelli, for governor this year.
  • Vice President Joe Biden met with journalists concerned about China’s recent crackdown on foreign media while on his trip abroad, reports the Washington Post’s David Nakamura.
  • When the president plays “Hardball” Thursday with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, they will discuss “voter suppression, healthcare, political gridlock in D.C., growing dissatisfaction with the government and more,” the host said.
  • The Defense Department’s 92-year-old think tank head Andrew W. Marshall — nicknamed Yoda, who “contemplates military strategy and apocalyptic scenarios,” Craig Whitlock writes — won’t lose his job in the wake of Pentagon cutbacks.
  • We’ll give you three guesses who is sounding like a presidential candidate while on the road in South Carolina.
  • Members of Congress will be allowed to wish their constituents a happy holiday in official mail this year, a reverse of a ban on such greetings.
  • Chris Cillizza is asking readers to help him make a list of the best political books of the year.
  • The popular political thriller television series House of Cards will be returning with a second season to Netflix on February 14, 2014. You can watch the teaser trailer here.
  • The Democratic National Committee has tips for talking to “Your Republican Uncle.”

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • The NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill examined the Iran interim nuclear deal in a report and then she interviewed Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman about what the U.S. gained in the interim deal and what could be lost if Congress imposes additional sanctions. Watch:
  • For Science Wednesday, Rebecca Jacobson detailed research from the oldest known human DNA that suggests we’re “complete mongrels.”
  • Jeffrey Brown talked with featured artists from the National Geographic Society’s “Women of Vision” exhibition of 11 female photographers who captured images of war, poverty and culture.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Aileen Graef contributed to this report.

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