President Barack Obama called economic inequality the “defining challenge of our time,” while urging Congress to raise wages in an appeal Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.
The president, who made his speech at a nonprofit community center not far from the White House, said that the current economic landscape makes it harder for a child to escape poverty.
“That should offend all of us,” he declared. “We are a better country than this.” Though he didn’t offer new initiatives, Obama specifically called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. A bill by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa would proposes this wage increase in three steps and is not expected to be voted on before the end of this year.
Whenever it is debated, the measure seems unlikely to win the 60 votes it would need to clear the Senate due to GOP opposition, AP reports.
Obama also urged Congress to extend jobless benefits to 1.3 million long-term unemployed people, as these benefits are set to expire just three days after Christmas.
Additional weeks of benefits have been extended every year since 2009, but a senior Republican lawmaker, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said recently that some lawmakers in his party oppose another extension.
In the speech, Obama acknowledged again that his administration delivered “poor execution” in launching a health care website that was flawed, and he blamed Republicans for a “reckless” shutdown of the government.
“Nobody has acquitted themselves very well these past few months,” Obama said. “So it’s not surprising that the American people’s frustrations with Washington are at an all-time high.”