01/28/2014 10:42 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2014

SOTU 2014: First Impressions


I'll have more to say in coming days but I liked the speech quite a bit. The challenge for the president was to avoid ticking through a list of ideas that had no chance of going anywhere. I think he largely avoided that, though he did hit on ideas that Congress probably will, but shouldn't block, like extended UI, infrastructure investment, a higher national minimum wage, and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (to raise the very low existing credit for childless adults; he noted Republican support on this one, so who knows??).

Instead, he focused on a number of executive orders targeting higher minimum wages for workers on federal contracts, retirement security, better broadband access in schools, and higher fuel efficiency standards. Of course, these will reach far fewer people than federal legislation. For example, his minimum wage EO will reach a few hundred thousand; the federal bill on which it is based would lift the earnings of 17 million.

But the president cannot and should not let Congress block his every move, and good for the administration for trying to find other ways to help working families overcome opportunity barriers in our increasingly unequal economy. If he, and the rest of us, can convince them to work on behalf of the economic well-being of the American people, especially those left behind by the current expansion, so much the better. But I don't blame him for not waiting.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.