PRESIDENT Barack Obama tried to inject some momentum into his flagging second term last night by announcing in his State of the Union address that he would raise the minimum wage for government contract workers.
The populist gesture, immediately denounced as empty grandstanding by senior Republicans, was offered by aides as a signal of Mr Obama's determination to kick back against political gridlock in Washington and boost his own approval ratings, now at historic lows.
Hours before Mr Obama, above, delivered his annual address, the White House said he would sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers from $7.25 (€5.30) to $10.10 (€7.39) . . . to "lead by example".
The decision to go it alone comes after a frustrating year for Mr Obama, who used his 2013 State of the Union address to urge Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9 (€6.58) for all workers, but was blocked by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which argued that the measure would hurt business.
Mr Obama's executive order, which applies only to new contracts, will affect a few hundred thousand out of 560,000 federal contractors – janitors, food servers and construction workers – who are estimated by the Demos think tank to be earning less than $12 (€8.78) an hour.
John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, said the executive order would affect "absolutely no one" and warned Mr Obama about overstepping the limits of his executive authority, promising that Republicans would not allow him to "trample all over us".
"This idea that he's just going to go it alone – I have to remind him we do have a constitution. And the Congress writes the laws, and the president's job is to execute the laws faithfully. And if he tries to ignore this he's going to run into a brick wall," he said.
Although White House aides accept Mr Obama has little prospect of forcing much of his legislative agenda through Congress, they have promised a "year of action".
Sixty-eight per cent of Americans feel their country is in the same place or worse off than when Mr Obama took office in 2009, compared with 31pc who find it is better off, according to an NBC/'Wall Street Journal' survey.
Aides said Mr Obama would seek to dispel this gloom by delivering greater opportunities to middle-class America. (© Daily Telegraph, London)