John Boehner Blasts Obama for Using Executive Order to Hike Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers by 39 Percent
David Martosko, Daily Mail (London), January 28, 2014
Two influential Republicans are warning the White House that President Obama’s use of executive orders to bypass Congress before his State of the Union speech is blatantly unconstitutional.
Obama launched a pre-emptive strike Tuesday morning in his protracted battles with the GOP by raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers with a stroke of his pen.
‘I think it’s a constitutional violation,’ conservative Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa said Tuesday on CNN.
‘We have a minimum wage. Congress has set it. For the president to simply declare “I’m going to change this law that Congress has passed” is unconstitutional.’
‘We’ve never had a president with that level of audacity and that level of contempt for his own oath of office,’ King added.
And House Speaker John Boehner seemed to follow suit during a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
‘We’re going to watch very closely,’ he said of the White House’s newfound pen-stroke approach to governing, ‘because there’s a Constitution that we all take an oath to, including him, and following that Constitution is the basis for our republic, and we shouldn’t put that in jeopardy.’
Boehner reminded reporters that Congress holds the government’s purse-strings, and that his party isn’t afraid to tug them tightly if Obama doesn’t come to heel.
‘There are options available to us,’ he said, adding that Republicans would ‘have a discussion about that’ during a retreat that begins Wednesday.
Boehner also noted what some economists say is a relationship between minimum wage increases and job losses among young and unskilled minorities in the workplace.
‘I used to be an employer,’ he said. ‘When you raise the cost of something, you get less of it.’
‘We know from increases in the minimum wage in the past that hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans have lost their jobs, and so the very people the president purports to help are the ones who are going to get hurt by this.’
But Senate Democrats fired back, voicing support for Obama’s choice to raise contractors’ wages on his own.
‘Increasing the minimum wage for federal contract workers is an important first step toward leveling the playing field for all workers,’ Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said.
‘Now it’s time for Congress to take action, so that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can earn enough to make ends meet.’
Her fellow Massachusettsan Sen. Ed Markey called a stagnant minimum earning level ‘a war against wages.’
‘We need to increase the minimum wage for all workers,’ Markey said Tuesday.
The president will deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night, perhaps threatening still more executive actions designed to do an end-run around the legislative branch of government.
Obama’s surprising move on wages hikes the minimum by 39 per cent for companies using their employees to service contracts with the U.S. government.
The change, from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, won’t affect the estimated 2.65 million civilians who work directly on the government payroll.
But private companies large and small that want to do business with Uncle Sam will have to certify that they comply, or risk losing their contracts.
According to the Obama administration’s Office of Personnel Management, some federal employees earn less than the president’s desired minimum wage.
Including base pay and supplemental income based on the cost of living where they live and work, full-time federal employees at the lowest end of the pay scale earn as little as $20,527 per year, a wage equal to $9.86 per hour.
Obama is sure to ask Congress to extend his minimum wage increase to the entire nation’s workforce during Tuesday night’s speech. Yet his pre-emptive strike on one of his pet issues is a unilateral move of the kind Obama has repeatedly promised to make, circumventing Congress whenever it doesn’t go along with whatever policy objectives he chooses to lay before them.
‘We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need,’ a frustrated Obama said on January 14 as he convened his cabinet in a public show of force.
‘I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,’ he warned. ‘And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward.’
The implied threat behind the president’s mighty-pen strategy hasn’t been lost on Capitol Hill’s most vocal Republicans, and he seemed to reinforce it Monday with a tweet featuring a photo of a pen–although the White House said it stood ‘ready for editing his latest State of the Union draft.’
Obama’s speech itself will be a history-dripping stemwinder delivered in a setting that boasts all the pageantry of a royal funeral. But in the age of tweets and 90-second cable news interviews, fewer and fewer Americans pay attention to lengthy policy speeches.
While the political drama that follows Obama’s demands may be interesting, the speech itself promises little but campaign-style bluster likely designed as a preface to the campaigner-in-chief’s next populist swing through friendly political climes and their fawning audiences.
Only 41 per cent of Democrats polled by Fox News last week said they planned to ‘watch or listen to the speech carefully,’ and that’s Obama’s high water mark.
Barely half as many Republicans–22 per cent–told pollsters they intend to tune in, along with 29 per cent of political independents.
It’s just as well, since a Gallup poll released Monday found that the issue Americans most want to see addressed in Tuesday’s speech is their overall dissatisfaction with government in Washington.
And the words Obama speaks–a laundry list of wishes spanning the governmental universe from health care and gun control to U.S. policy on Iran and the minimum wage–will tell less of the story than the gamesmanship behind them.
The issues themselves, which also include a call for a new approach to immigration, a demand for the next no-strings-attached increase in the federal debt ceiling, and a long-term extension of unemployment benefits, will also serve to give Congressional Democrats something positive to run on in November while Republicans pummel them with Obamacare references.
Obama’s handlers have tamped down expectations in recent days.
Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s senior adviser, said two days ago on Fox News Sunday that ‘the Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president’s agenda’ and ‘the president is not going to sign the Republican Congress’ agenda. So we have to find areas where we can work together.’
Similarly, he wrote Saturday in a message to the the White House’s email list that the State of the Union speech would be summed up by the three words ‘opportunity, action, and optimism,’ two of which seem calibrated to suggest a tepid forecast.
Even the generally Obama-friendly New York Times predicted that Obama will pursue a ‘modest agenda’ in his speech.
But Pfeiffer’s momentary nod to ‘action’ was enough to bring him to repeat Obama’s taunt.
‘President Obama has a pen and he has a phone,’ he wrote, ‘and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American–business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country–in the project to restore opportunity for all.’
The ultimatum approach hasn’t sat well with leading Republicans on Capitol Hill.
‘It sounds vaguely like a threat.’ the tea party-linked Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said Sunday on CNN, ‘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.’
‘It wasn’t supposed to be easy to pass legislation,’ he said. ‘You had to debate and convince people. . . . The president’s not allowed to write legislation, he’s not allowed to amend legislation.’
Mitch McConnell, the Bluegrass State’s other senator and the GOP’s leader in the upper chamber, said Sunday on Fox News that Obama has refused to see the Republican Party’s gains in Congress as a sign from the public.
‘This president, it seems to me,’ McConnell said, ‘after the 2010 election when the American public issued a–shall we say–restraining order, the president has sort of hung out on the left and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy as opposed to moving to the political center.’
What Obama wants, Republican observers say, is a free pass to lay down his legacy in the face of a shifting electorate that has wearied of his poetic style and craves textbook-prose solutions.
‘He may be getting what he wants on gay rights and global warming,’ MailOnline heard from a GOP strategist in Washington who declined to be named. ‘That’s just because he can push regulations when Congress won’t back him.’
‘But look at Iran, and look at the minimum wage fight–and, god, look at Obamacare, and immigration,’ he said. ‘he can’t just wave his magic wand and make a bill appear on his desk. That’s got to drive him nuts.’
Annoyed or not, Obama is expected to outline strategies on Tuesday night that don’t require Congress to act, in addition to pleading for legislative outcomes that he can’t generate on his own.
Previous efforts to shepherd legislation through Congress, even on topics where the public seems to agree with him–such as expanded background checks on gun purchases and comprehensive immigration reform–have almost predictably stalled.
It was Senate Democrats, led by New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who stymied Obama’s efforts in Iran with threats of a new round of sanctions if the Islamic regime fails to halt its nuclear weapons program.
‘It’s almost like Obama’s trying to convince his adversaries that he’s not such a bad guy,’ offered the Republican operative, ‘but some of his friends are stepping in and saying, “Not so fast, there.”‘