By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON Jan 29 President Barack Obama on
Wednesday will highlight the theme of income disparity by
visiting a Maryland big-box wholesaler and a steel plant in a
depressed corner of Pennsylvania a day after launching a renewed
push to raise the federal minimum wage.
In a symbolic trip hours after giving his annual State of
the Union address, Obama will seek to raise momentum for his
proposals to lift workers' incomes and make it easier for
Americans to put money away for retirement.
Obama traditionally uses the day after his high-profile
speech to advance his agenda and set the mood for the year.
This year's trip will also launch his efforts to help
Democrats win seats in November's congressional elections by
focusing on a popular theme that touches on the economy and
Obama announced on Tuesday he would sign an executive order
lifting the minimum wage for workers with new federal contracts
to $10.10 and urged Congress to do the same for Americans
nationwide. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
The speech drew immediate praise from members of his
Democratic Party, many of whom started the year discouraged by
the flawed rollout of his signature healthcare reform law last
"The increase in the minimum wage is a very powerful
message. It resonates across the country," said Senator Ed
Markey from Massachusetts. "I think this will really give some
wind to this year's Obama agenda."
Republicans oppose a broad increase in the minimum wage,
saying it could harm the economy. "When you raise the cost of
something, you get less of it," House of Representatives Speaker
John Boehner told a news conference on Tuesday.
After a year in which Obama's policy proposals largely
failed to gain traction in a divided Congress, the president
spelled out a more modest agenda in his speech on Tuesday night.
He plans to highlight his proposals on a visit on Wednesday to a
Costco store in Lanham, Maryland, on the outskirts of
"Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the
smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover," Obama said
in his speech, giving a shout-out to the popular bulk retailer.
The White House says Costco and similar businesses have
supported previous increases to the minimum wage because higher
earnings for employees build a stronger work force and increase
morale and profitability over the long run.
CHAMPIONING THE MIDDLE CLASS
The push to raise wages for lower-income Americans is part
of a Democratic effort to reinforce the image of Obama, whose
poll numbers are low, as a hero of the middle class, much as he
presented himself during the 2012 presidential campaign.
"Raising the minimum wage is not just a matter of fairness
or a means of combating inequality; it is also needed to
jumpstart our economy," the Center for American Progress, a
liberal-leaning think tank, said in a statement.
"Increasing the minimum wage would put money in the pockets
of workers, who are likely to spend that money immediately at
businesses in their communities."
Obama will also promote his proposal to create a program to
help Americans who do not have traditional IRAs or 401K
retirement accounts to save money for retirement.
After his Costco stop, Obama will travel to a U.S. Steel
plant in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, where he will discuss his
Senior administration officials said the plant was an
example of a place that offered very good retirement accounts.
Obama said in his speech he would direct the Treasury
Department to create a savings bond-like instrument called MyRA,
which would have a guaranteed return without risk of losing