President Obama first proposed use of the chained consumer price index in 2011 as part of a "grand bargain," and then included the plan in the budget he released last year, enraging liberal Democrats on and off Capitol Hill.
Democrats who opposed the president's decision last year to offer adjustments to Social Security payments praised the turnabout. "Budget conversations should focus on how we can work to help struggling seniors in this country, not on how to shift the burden to working people and retirees," Reps. Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.
The executive order to be announced by the president during Tuesday night's speech will take effect only for "new contracts after the effective date of the order." The administration will honor existing contracts, but the speech gives notice to contractors to adjust future bids -- likely by raising them -- to accommodate the higher wages.The move marks a significant victory for labor unions and a handful of progressive Democrats who pressed the president to issue the order, including Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
"We feel great about it. To me, it's evidence that activism works. If you petition your government peacefully for the right thing, something that helps people," it will happen, Ellison said. "It's not always on your timeline.... This is not a complete victory, but we also understood that half of something is better than all of nothing."
Obviously, to many progressives, the place for Obama to start would be to announce that he will sign the long-sought executive order to raise the minimum wage for government contractors – workers employed at government-run facilities across the country. They don't even pause to think about it. More than just talking about action, Obama could take it that night, immediately increasing the pay of people from $7.25 per hour to $10.10. Announcing the executive order from the podium, Grijalva said, would be "huge."
Since Good Jobs Nation's launch last May, organizers say the campaign has secured a (reportedly inconclusive) meeting with the head of the General Services Administration, spurred union recognition for about 220 museum workers, sparked a Department of Labor investigation into alleged wage theft, and largely succeeded at using community protest to reverse or avert retaliation against strikers. But the campaign so far hasn't received any direct public response from the president. That silence has drawn increasingly public pushback from the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who are among 50 House members to write to the White House in support of the workers' demands.
The workers, backed by a group of about 17 House progressives, want President Obama to exercise his executive authority to improve their pay and get taxpayers out of the business of paying poverty wages. The administration has kept quiet on the topic for months as the congressional progressives who favor the move have gotten louder and begun criticizing the president's inaction, and both workers and lawmakers hope Obama's upcoming State of the Union address will include an announcement about raising federal contract worker wages with the stroke of a pen.