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

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.

What to expect from Obama's State of the Union

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.

What Americans are searching for ahead of the State of the Union

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."

Obama’s executive order eases student loan burden

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.


The pledge: "If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement - and fix our broken immigration system."

The progress: After prodding the House for more than a year to pass the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, Mr. Obama tried a different tack by announcing plans to unilaterally defer deportations for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally using his executive authority. Republican leaders have lambasted the president for acting on his own, and they are attempting to block the president's actions by blocking the funding for immigration services, which has put the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget at risk.

Tax reform

The pledge: "Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let's flip that equation. Let's work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home."

The progress: Even without the animosity between the president and Congress, an issue as complex and politically sensitive was unlikely to go anywhere in an election year. Even a plan released by former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, went nowhere in the Republican-controlled House.


The pledge: "When ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped "Made in the USA." China and Europe aren't standing on the sidelines. Neither should we."

Obama: "Definitely a deal to be done" with GOP on tax reform, free trade

The progress: The White House is still working to conclude two major free trade deals with Asia and Europe that remain elusive despite years of negotiations. If the negotiators can finish their work, however, he may have more luck in getting the Republican-controlled Congress to approve the deals, since there was far more opposition among Democrats. Republican leaders have suggested they will work with the president on the trade deals.


The pledge: "Working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs - because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated."

The progress: President Obama backed a series of reforms to end the government's bulk collection of phone records and the House passed a bill to do so, though many privacy advocates said the measure was too weak to actually end the program. Ultimately, however, the Senate blocked consideration of the bill in November, giving the National Security Agency the ability to continue their current practices unhindered.

Guantanamo Bay

The pledge: "With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay - because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world."

Flash Points: Will the U.S. finally close Guantanamo?

The progress: There is still substantial Republican opposition to closing the Cuban prison, so the president made no headway on a full closure in 2014. But the administration has succeeded in transferring many detainees out of the prison this year, including 10 in December alone.


The pledge: "My administration has launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh and Youngstown, where we've connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I'm announcing we'll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work."

The progress: In February, Mr. Obama announced two new advanced manufacturing hubs, one for digital manufacturing and design technologies in Chicago and another for lightweight and modern metals manufacturing in Canton, Michigan. Throughout the year the administration secured public and private funding for four more institutes to focus on advanced composites, photonics, smart manufacturing and flexible hybrid electronics. The Manufacturing Institute for Advanced Composites will be led by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Mr. Obama announced earlier this month. The House passed a bill in September to establish a network of manufacturing innovation centers, which became law in the spending bill that passed Congress in December.


The pledge: "Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I'll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we're at it, I'll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations."

The promise: Congress funded clean air and climate activities at $32 million below Mr. Obama's request, but the White House says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still working to streamline regulations. But the EPA also announced a goal of significantly reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production, which some natural gas producers warn could hamper future production.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2014 died in the House. The legislation was actually incorporated into the spending bill that passed Congress in December.

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