WASHINGTON -- After promising for weeks to do so, President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors -- but only after wagging his finger at Congress for failing to "give America a raise" by hiking the overall minimum.
Surrounded at the White House by people who work for an hourly wage, Obama delivered remarks aimed largely at members of Congress who have ignored his call to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.
"In the wealthiest nation on earth, nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty -- nobody, not here in America," Obama told a crowd gathered at the White House to witness the signing.
"While Congress decides what it's going to do -- and I hope this year, and I'm going to work this year, and urge this year that they actually pass a law -- today I'm going to do what I can to help raise working Americans' wages," he said.
In so doing, Obama put the executive order to its intended use: calling out Congress for inaction.
The executive order, which Obama had announced in the State of the Union address and detailed in a series of appearances that followed – is the first unilateral action of the administration's 2014 strategy of emphasizing moves the president can take on his own. It would require companies that do business with the federal government to pay their workers at least $10.10 per hour.
Like most executive actions, this one has much more limited impact than a new law. If Congress raised the minimum wage, several million workers would get more money. Obama's order will affect at most several thousand – primarily janitors and food-service workers at some federal buildings and military bases. The order affects only new federal contracts, so its impact will be phased in as contracts are renewed.
Still, Obama is rolling out a raft of directives and orders this winter, explaining each time that he is taking baby steps in hopes of inspiring Congress to make leaps.
And while the impact of his executive order may be small, Obama focused Wednesday on those who would be helped. The higher wage, he said would aid "a dishwasher at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas making $7.76 an hour."
There's a fast food worker at Andrews Air Force Base making $8.91 an hour, he said, and a laundry worker at Camp Dodge in Iowa making $9.03 an hour.
"Once I sign this order, starting next year, as their contracts come up, each of them and many of their fellow co-workers are going to get a raise," Obama said, as his crowd cheered.
The executive action has not changed the minds of Republican lawmakers, who still oppose the idea of a higher minimum. As Obama prepared for the afternoon event, an aide to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky emailed a recent McConnell remark from a debate in the chamber.
"If and when we turn to that issue," McConnell said, "I think you'd anticipate Republicans being interested in offering as an alternative something that might actually create more jobs, rather than something that would destroy jobs. So we are prepared to have that debate."
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has dismissed Obama's executive action as insignificant.