Extending jobless benefits and raising the minimum wage. Acting administratively to curb climate change. Getting Obamacare off the ground successfully. Reforming the NSA. And hopefully, somehow, getting immigration reform through Congress.
That’s the nutshell version of President Barack Obama’s to-do list in 2014, as sketched out by a senior administration official, ahead of the State of the Union speech later this month. As the White House often does when briefing reporters at the beginning of a new year, the official discussed the president’s thinking on condition of anonymity and declined to be directly quoted.
One of Obama’s major themes for 2014 will be the perils of rising income
inequality. He’ll push to revive jobless benefits — which lapsed on Dec. 28 for some $1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans — for three months without an offset. After that, the administration official said, he’s willing to consider a way to pay for a longer-term extension of the benefits. But there are no such negotiations happening between the White House and Republicans, the official said. Obama will also keep beating the drum for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which congressional Republicans have all but ruled out.
The White House will unveil a series of proposed reforms to enhance transparency at the National Security Agency — not this week, but before the president’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28, the official said. It’s the culmination of a heated national debate sparked last year by Edward Snowden’s disclosures of classified information on the expansiveness and secrecy of the NSA’s intelligence operations. The administration official refused to give Snowden credit for jump-starting the conversation, though, as outside advocates of reining in the NSA have.
The White House also hopes to turn the page on Obamacare’s awful rollout. One of their top priorities is to persuade the uninsured people who tried and failed to enroll early to give it another go. They’re encouraged that the HealthCare.gov website is finally working smoothly, and believe they’re in a stronger position now that coverage via the exchanges and Medicaid expansion has taken effect, making the GOP’s repeal push no longer a theoretical exercise. But now comes the hardest part: trying to get every little piece of implementation right to ensure a good Obamacare experience.
A very high priority for Obama, the administration official said, is to use his executive authority to curb climate change and spur the use of clean energy. The issue is all but dead in Congress for the foreseeable future, but the official said Obama wants to do all that he can to make it part of his presidential legacy. As part of that effort, he intends this year to finalize new emissions standards for coal-fired power plants.
Obama also wants to give House Republican leaders the space they need to make immigration reform happen this year, the administration official said. There are some signs that Speaker John Boehner wants to get reform done, but it’s an uphill climb at best and faces daunting obstacles.