His message to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday will identify measures where he and Congress can cooperate, and he will press issues that will distinguish him and Democrats from Republicans. He'll also make a case for acting alone, using his power of executive order.
"In a nutshell, (executive order) is the president making the law. Not Congress" said Boise State Political Science Professor John Freemuth. "It could backfire on him, or show him as a leader. It kind of challenges Congress to come up with an alternative . If you don't like what the president is doing, then come up with something else."
Illustrating his willingness to act on his own, the White House says Obama will announce that he will sign an executive order increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for new federal contracts. The measure affects only future contracts, not existing ones, and would only apply to contract renewals if other terms of the agreement changed. As a result, the order would benefit far fewer workers than the number foreseen by advocates of federal contract employees.
Still, the issue dovetails with what will be Obama's broader call for an increase in the national minimum wage to $10.10 and for future increases to be tied to inflation. Obama last year had called for an increase in the minimum wage to $9.
The address will be wrapped in a unifying theme: The federal government can play a key role in increasing opportunities for Americans who have been left behind, unable to benefit from a recovering economy. Yet, at the core of the address, the president will deliver a split message.
Even as he argues that low income Americans and many in the middle class lack the means to achieve upward mobility, Obama will also feel compelled to take credit for an economy that by many indicators is gaining strength under his watch. As a result, he will talk positively about a recovery that remains elusive to many Americans.