WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used his last State of the Union to declare 2014 a “Year of Action,” and he can claim credit for accomplishing several of the goals he laid out. The smaller ones.
That’s because while he was able to check off most of what he promised to do through executive action in last year’s speech, Obama was unable in the bitterly partisan election year to get Congress to go along with the bigger plans he had for the country that required their approval.
As Obama prepares to make that annual trek up Pennsylvania Avenue to address Congress once again, here’s a look back a year later at five of the promises he made — and which got fulfilled and denied.
“Let’s get immigration reform done this year,” Obama declared to a Congress that had long blocked his efforts. And so he did, although it was not the broad plan he envisioned that would have allowed a path to citizenship for more than 11 immigrants illegally in the United States. Instead, Obama took executive action to make more than 4 million of those immigrants eligible for protection from deportation and eligible for work permits.
One of Obama’s most ambitious ideas was to raise America’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, upping the ante from the $9-an-hour proposal he made in the 2013 State of the Union. Congress wasn’t keen on the idea, but the president was able to unilaterally make the change for new federal contractors. The White House estimated it would directly help a few hundred thousand people, but argues the bigger impact has been that several states and localities raised their minimum wage last year after Obama raised the debate.
Obama was able to create a new retirement savings account — dubbed “myRA” for “my IRA” — geared toward low- and middle-income Americans who don’t have the upfront investment that many commercial IRAs require. For years, Obama has been asking Congress to encourage more Americans to grow a retirement nest egg by allowing all workers to be automatically enrolled in IRAs unless they specifically opt out. But Congress hasn’t acted on that, so Obama offered the more modest myRA plan. The Treasury Department has set up a new security as the basis for the investment and for the past month has been running a pilot program with a small group of employers, with plans to expand the program by the end of 2015.
While most of Obama’s proposals last year were positions he had long advocated, one of the few new proposals he offered was extension of the earned-income tax credit, which helps boost the wages of low-income families through tax refunds. Obama wanted it broadened to provide more help to workers without children, a view embraced by some Republicans and conservative economists. “Let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead,” Obama said optimistically — too optimistically, it turned out. The proposal never passed.
Obama said the goal of his energy policy is to create jobs and a cleaner planet and announced that he wanted to set higher fuel economy standards for trucks. He followed up by visiting a Safeway distribution center to promote the idea. The process for making the change is underway within the administration, with a new regulation planned to be proposed in March 2015 and finalized in March 2016.