Obama's Democratic Base Re-energized By State Of The Union Speech
President Obama's Democratic base voiced strong support for his inspired State of the Union speech last night that touched on all the core issues including: comprehensive immigration reform; the need for a raise of the minimum wage; emergency unemployment insurance; jobs creation and training programs; repairing the nation's infrastructure; affordable education and universal pre-k; the affordable care act; income inequality; competition with China and "in-sourcing" U.S. jobs; and the need to continue negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
“In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a bold vision for the future of our nation. His agenda is a promising blueprint for economic development, with a focus that mirrors our approach in New York to bring jobs and businesses back from overseas and create new opportunities for the middle class to grow," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. "I was proud to hear President Obama express his support for states prioritizing early education and I look forward to making New York the 4th state in the nation to offer quality full day pre-K for every child statewide.
“Just as we must strengthen our schools and economy, we must also invest in our infrastructure in order to prepare for the new reality of extreme weather. The federal government’s support in 2013 helped New York State begin to rebuild after the damage of storms Sandy, Irene, and Lee, and as the President has suggested, we must continue to invest in strengthening our communities for Mother Nature’s next challenge.
“Finally, President Obama is right that women deserve equal pay for equal work, and he is right to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. New York is a state that has long fought for equality and celebrated diversity, and by welcoming new families and new businesses we will continue to grow as a community, as a state, and as a nation. I look forward to working with President Obama and our partners in the federal government to create new economic and educational opportunities for all New Yorkers, ensure safer, fairer, and cleaner communities, and reimagine our State for the future.”
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who represents New York's 8th District said: “The dysfunction that characterized Congress in 2013 must yield to a year of legislative action on behalf of the American people. President Obama made clear that he is prepared to move forward in order to expand economic opportunity for working class families and the middle class. It is time for Congress to step up and do its part for the good of the country.”
The Chair of the NAACP Board of Directors, Roslyn M. Brock, and the organization's Interim President Lorraine C. Miller, also weighed in.
“We heard President Obama issue a call for action that creates economic opportunity in his State of the Union Address," Brock said.
"President Obama challenged Congress to follow his lead and increase the minimum wage to give America a raise. He also urged lawmakers to create opportunities for citizenship through comprehensive immigration reform. The President called on all Americans to work hard, take responsibility and get everyone health insurance to secure a more prosperous future."
“President Obama put himself in the shoes of the American public and addressed the bread and butter issues that we all face,” added Miller. “From raising the minimum wage to job training, the President brought the issue of economic inequality front and center and offered practical solutions to close the gap. President Obama has embraced the social justice movement that is moving across this nation and has boldly called on all Americans to do the same. The NAACP will heed his call and continue to be leaders in the effort end the inequalities that have plagued our nation for centuries.”
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said: “I commend President Obama for placing inequality front and center this evening and outlining steps to address the most urgent crisis of our time. In the absence of action by Congress, the President did the right thing by unilaterally raising the minimum wage for federal workers, and New York looks forward to more progress in the months ahead. Whether it’s providing affordable and secure health care to more Americans, easing the path to citizenship for immigrants who make our nation great, or providing a real living wage to low-income workers still reeling from the financial crisis, we must work together to ensure the President’s agenda is a success both here and across the nation.”
Several leaders of the major unions also reacted to the president's speech last night.
“It should not fall only on the president and Congress to make sure workers earn a decent wage. Our business leaders have a responsibility to help close the growing income gap, especially in an era of record profits,” said Mary Kay Henry, President, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
"President Obama made clear that he believes economic inequality to be the defining issue of our time. It threatens the state of our union and I applaud the president for beginning a broader discussion about how we achieve shared prosperity. “One step forward is the president’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Bills exist in Congress that would raise the wage and we hope they are taken up and passed as soon as possible. We need to end the new ‘normal’ of workers stringing together low-wage jobs with no benefits that can’t support a family. As President Obama said tonight, 'the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.' "
She added: “In addition, requiring federal contractors to pay their workers $10.10 is another step forward and we are encouraged that the president will use his executive authority to make it happen. When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, the president shouldn't have to wait for Congress. While raising these wages is a good start, it won’t solve the problem by itself. The best way for workers to thrive is by bargaining with their employers for better wages and a shot at a better future. However, it should not fall only on the president and Congress to make sure workers earn a decent wage. Our business leaders have a responsibility to help close the growing income gap, especially in an era of record profits. Simone Sonnier-Jang, a fast food worker from Los Angeles who sat in the House gallery tonight, is one of thousands of workers around the country calling attention to the crisis of low wages. Workers like her are making their voices heard and demanding $15 an hour and the right to form a union. Also of critical importance to achieving shared prosperity is action on commonsense immigration reform. The time is now – actually, it’s past due. Both sides need to come together to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and we urge the president to keep the pressure on lawmakers to pass real reform so that 11 million people can come out of the shadows and participate fully in our democracy. It’s important to note how important affordable health care is for Americans' economic security. That’s why protecting the Affordable Care Act should remain a priority for this Congress.”
Lee Saunders, President of AFSCME offered the following comments: “Tonight, President Obama presented a comprehensive plan to move our country forward, create jobs and protect vital services for millions of Americans, with a focus on meaningful economic opportunity. Too often, opportunity comes with an inadequate wage for those who are unemployed and that exacerbates income inequality in our nation. Earlier today the President took the first step to address this issue by raising the minimum wage for new government contract workers through executive order. Now, Congress must heed his call and we must raise the minimum wage so that all Americans may live and prosper, not live in poverty.We hope that the Congress will work with the President to take other steps to address the growing income inequality that hampers meaningful economic recovery in our country. This is the defining challenge of our time and we must rise together to meet it. Combatting income inequality also means empowering workers to bargain for better pay and secure benefits. When unions are strong, all workers benefit. Sadly, the nationwide attacks on collective bargaining persist, as deep-pocketed, anti-worker forces systematically target unions. Their efforts to undo collective bargaining weaken all workers.”
The American Federation of Teacher's (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said: “We are a stronger nation when we champion opportunity, reward work and create a path to success for all of our citizens. The forward-seeking agenda that President Obama laid out tonight combats the economic inequality many working Americans face with real and practical solutions that raise people up—not deepen wealth divisions—by increasing the minimum wage and putting Americans back to work in good jobs with family-friendly policies like paid sick leave, expanding early childhood education, making college affordable, and creating a new retirement savings program called MyRA. And by using the first words of his address to honor the dedication of teachers, the president highlighted the importance of educators and our schools in helping our children achieve their dreams. We cannot rest until we fully re-establish the steps on the ladder to opportunity and give working families a shot at the American dream. The president has heard the American people, and we now must heed his call for action.
“A vibrant economy and a high-quality public education system have been and always will be intertwined. It’s no coincidence that when our nation summoned the political will to launch a war on poverty 50 years ago, we not only slashed poverty rates, put Americans back to work and rebuilt communities, but also witnessed a rapid spike in student achievement that has yet to be repeated. The black-white reading gap alone shrank by two-thirds from the 1960s to the 1980s.
“While we can’t replicate today the same strategies employed 50 years ago, the American people need leaders willing to expand opportunity and help re-create a path to the middle class. We must build on what the president laid out tonight. It starts with investing in early childhood education, making college affordable, making public schools the center of communities, and, equipping students with essential life skills and offering multiple paths to graduation and the world of work through rigorous career and technical education programs. We need to reject sequestration and austerity, and invest in the services that keep our communities safe and vibrant and our families healthy. We need good jobs with living wages and opportunities for workers to develop new skills and compete in a changing workforce; unions can play an important role in both creating a highway to the middle class for workers, and partnering with government and the private sector to create career-ladder opportunities like we’ve done for paraprofessionals in New York City, Baltimore and elsewhere. We need to do more to ensure people have a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work. We can create good jobs today and invest in our future by putting Americans back to work rebuilding our infrastructure. And we need to stop just debating it and finally pass comprehensive immigration reform to end exploitation and strengthen our economy.
“The American people expect and deserve their leaders to act on their behalf to move an agenda the expands economic opportunity and reclaims the promise of public education for all children. With too many families still feeling the sting of an economy tilted against them, we simply can’t wait.”
Phill Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, said: "The President did not explicitly mention HIV/AIDS in tonight's address, but he did discuss social determinants that impact AIDS-poverty, income and heath care-in detail. President Obama spoke passionately on the need to invest more in job reform, extend unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage. 'Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty,' the President said. President Obama also forcefully argued for more investments in education, which will increase earning potential. He also singled out Black male youth-who have the highest unemployment rates in the nation-for more education and job training. Bravo.The President made a convincing argument on the success so far of the Affordable Care Act-the most far-reaching overhaul of our health care system since the passage of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965. One of the most poignant moments of the evening was when President Obama referenced the formerly common practice of health care insurers discriminating based on pre-existing conditions.The Affordable Care Act will broaden health care coverage to many Americans living with HIV. Less than one in five of the 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the nation have private insurance-and nearly one in three do not have any coverage at all.The law also will also expand Medicaid coverage-but an estimated 43 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS reside in states that are not currently expanding Medicaid. Many of these states-such as Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina-are disproportionately lower income, African American and located in the South. These are also these regions and demographic groups in which new HIV infections are increasing most quickly."