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Politics & Government

Local Reaction to State of the Union Mixed

Reaction from southwestern Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address has unsurprisingly been mixed.

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA 18) was pleased to hear the president say that he wanted to work with Congress but was a bit concerned with his willingness to “go it alone.” The president spoke of using executive orders to make progress on pet projects as diverse as encouraging the increase of minimum wage to creating a new retirement savings option for working Americans.

Murphy said Obama campaigned on the idea of reversing the trend seen in the Bush administration of expanding the powers of the presidency yet he is falling into the same trap. 

“The Constitution says it is the role of Congress to make the laws,” Murphy said. “What has to happen is the difficult work of democracy, and that is spending time together not talking at us (Congress) but conversing with us.”

The president said he would use an executive order to raise minimum wage paid by federal contractors to $10.10. He called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage for all workers to the same level. Obama previously asked Congress to raise the rate to $9 by the end of 2015, but Congress has not taken that step.

Murphy said he could not vote for a bill that just raises the minimum wage. Instead, he would like to see a bill that rolls minimum wage together with plans to build family sustaining jobs while at the same time protecting workers from unfair trade with countries like China.

“I don’t think Americans aspire to a minimum wage, I think they aspire to a career where they can support their family with decent wages and some stability … not just jumping from part-time work to part-time work,” Murphy said.

Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA 14) said he would very much be in favor of legislation increasing the minimum wage. He said it would be a great way to “jump start the economy.” Doyle is also optimistic that Congress will be able to pass legislation to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Doyle rode with the president on Air Force One from Washington to Pittsburgh Wednesday and will be with the president when he gives his speech at the U.S. Steel Irvin facility.

While at the plant, Obama is expected to tout his new savings account program to help people start saving for retirement. Obama is asking the Treasury to create a bond called MyRA that can be offered through employers as a "starter" retirement account.

Doyle likes the idea. 

“They know they can put this money aside," he said. "They know they’re going to get a little better return than if they just put the money in a savings account and they know they’re not putting their principal at risk."

Murphy said he needs more details before he can jump on board such a program. In the meantime, he said he thinks the president should find ways to shore up Social Security. 

The two congressmen, whose districts share a border, have very different takes on what the president had to say about an energy policy. The president wants to introduce first-of-its-kind emissions limits on power plants and cut red tape to help states build factories that use natural gas.

Doyle sees the president’s plan as being helpful for the region as it tries to build on the recent boom in shale gas exploration. Murphy sees it as a war on coal, not only on the energy front, but also on the manufacturing front.

“Every energy source has its drawbacks and it’s positives…" he said. "Wind and solar are still very inefficient, but I trust that over time more innovations will come to and make them much better, but you can’t make a windmill with out steel and you cant make steel without coal.”

The Republican hopes the president will address the issue while he is in the region Wednesday.