How did Obama fare on his 2014 State of the Union to-do list?

Last Updated Jan 20, 2015 4:10 PM EST

Not long before his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced his intention to work around Congress on the issues where he saw a pressing need for action but little chance for cooperation from Capitol Hill.

It's hard to say in hindsight whether Congress might have been more receptive if he hadn't already made that pronouncement, given that it followed three straight years of gridlock after Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2010. But it certainly didn't help. When it came to the plans he laid out in his 2014 State of the Union, he was most successful in delivering on the issues he said he would work on unilaterally.

Here's a look the to-do list that the president laid out in his 2014 State of the Union, and the status of the items on that list:

Minimum wage

The pledge: "I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour - because if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty. Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10...So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise."

The progress: Less than a month after his speech, the president signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees at least $10.10 an hour, a small minority of those who make minimum wage in this country. But minimum wage legislation that would have affected the entire workforce has gone nowhere in Congress: The Senate bill, which was authored by former Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa was blocked by Republicans in April.

Equal pay

The pledge: " Let's all come together - Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street - to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds."

The progress: The president's goal of closing the gender pay gap mirrored his minimal success with a minimum wage increase. He signed two executive orders in April, one to prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries, and another that mandated that the Labor Department collect data on the compensation for federal contract workers, organized by race and sex. But Senate Republicans blocked the "Paycheck Fairness Act" that aimed to strengthen the Fair Labor Standards Act's protections against pay inequities based on gender.

Job training

The pledge: "I've asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America's training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now...If Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs."

The progress: In September, Vice President Biden released a report announcing that 27 community colleges across the country had won $450 million in grants to help them partner with employers to expand and improve programs that train students for jobs in high-demand fields like information technology and healthcare.

Fuel standards

The pledge: "In the coming months, I'll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump."

The progress: He's well on his way with this goal. In February, the president directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation to write new standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by March 31, 2016.

Retirement savings:

The pledge: "I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It's a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg...if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can. And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations of Americans."

The progress: The president signed an executive order creating the "myRA" program on his second out-of-town stop to promote his State of the union agenda in late January. But Congress has not followed suit with legislation along the lines of what he outlined.

Unemployment insurance

The pledge: "I'm also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it's more effective in today's economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people."

The progress: President Obama publicly pressured to Congress to renew an unemployment insurance program that expired at the end of 2013, and a bipartisan group of senators managed to broker a deal to do so after months of false starts and fruitless negotiations. But the bill died in the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, argued that it did nothing to create more private-sector jobs and was too difficult to implement.

Universal pre-K

The pledge: "Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight...As Congress decides what it's going to do, I'm going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need."

The progress: Congress did nothing on pre-K this year, just as they did in 2013 after the president unveiled his universal pre-kindergarten initiative. But the president did convene a summit on early education just in the nick of time -- December 2014. There, he announced $330 million in new commitments from businesses and philanthropists to help expand the availability of early childhood education, as well as up to $750 million in new federal grants to increase access to early education.

Student loan debt

The pledge: "I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt. And I'm reaching out to some of America's leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential."

The progress: In June, the president outlined a series of steps aimed at helping Americans who are still paying off student loans and encouraged Congress to pass a more sweeping bill authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, that would close certain tax loopholes in order to raise revenue to help people refinance their loans. The bill died in the Senate in the face of Republican opposition.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for