The president's options, without Congressional help

President Barack Obama works on a draft of his State of the Union address in the Oval Office January 27, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC. President Obama will give his State of the Union address when speaking to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol tonight.

Tonight, President Obama delivers his State of the Union address. Income inequality is something the president has said he wants to tackle this year, but he has also acknowledged it is unlikely he is going to get much support from congress on anything.  So, what are President Obama’s options?

He couldn’t raise the minimum wage on his own, but Heather McGhee, who runs a liberal think tank called Demos, says the president is not powerless.

“He is, right, now, as the chief executive, the biggest boss of low-wage workers in the country,” McGhee explains. She is talking about federal contractors, and McGhee says President Obama could use an executive order to improve their pay.

Researchers like David Grusky, the director of Stanford University’s Center on Policy and Inequality, argue education is a way to level the playing field. He says the president wouldn’t need Congress to create a new scholarship program, “simply identifying these poor kids who have tremendous capacity and talent.”

Jared Bernstein, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the president would make greater strides with congress, but “with zero cooperation, it is much harder.”

He says another suggestion is “a rule change that the president could implement without congress that would significantly increase the number of people eligible for overtime pay.”

That would affect low-and-middle income workers who make a salary but aren’t automatically eligible for overtime.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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