WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid public doubts over his stewardship of the economy, President Barack Obama is putting a renewed focus on the income gap between rich and poor as he pushes for short-term congressional action and begins setting the domestic agenda for the remainder of his presidency.
The president plans to deliver an address Wednesday to argue his case that income inequality and wage stagnation are threatening upward mobility and retirement security. The speech comes amid growing national and international attention to economic disparities — from the writings of Pope Francis to the protests of fast-food workers in the U.S.
Obama is not expected to propose any new policy initiatives. But the White House says he will reiterate his call for an increase in the minimum wage and promote possible economic benefits of the troubled health care law. Obama also is expected to call on Congress to make a deal on 2014 spending, pass a farm bill with enough money for food stamps and extend unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed before the end of the year.
Polls show that the economy remains the single biggest concern for Americans, despite the recent focus on problems with the health care law. While some economic indicators are showing positive trends, unemployment remains high at 7.3 percent.
Moreover, the speech comes at a low point for the president. A recent CBS News poll shows that 60 percent of adults disapprove of his handling of the economy, the highest in nearly two years.
Setting the tone for his State of the Union address early next year, Obama is expected to highlight policy priorities that he has previously called for, including attracting businesses from overseas, simplifying the tax code, spending on infrastructure, improving education to compete for high-tech jobs and making college more affordable.
Those ideas have been recurrent themes in Obama’s economic agenda, but most have failed to materialize.
Obama has attempted to include some of those policies in past negotiations with Republicans for a comprehensive budget deal that would lower long-term deficits, raise revenue and increase upfront spending to spur the economy. But those efforts have failed and current budget negotiations between congressional Democrats and Republicans are far less ambitious.