WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders have warned President Barack Obama that pursuing more executive actions after last week's midterm drubbing would be like playing with fire. But Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Monday that unilateral action by the president on economic issues is more necessary than ever.
"The president is in a pivotal position to go assertively with executive orders to create a political balance and an economic balance," Grijalva told reporters on a conference call. "I'm one member that urges them to use that as a balancing tool and a leadership tool in these next two years."
Grijalva and his fellow caucus co-chair, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), are putting their weight behind two proposals in particular: one executive order that would give federal contracting preference to firms that pay a living wage of $15 and provide basic benefits to workers, and another guaranteeing that contractors wouldn't interfere with worker efforts to unionize. Branded as "More Than the Minimum," the proposals are being pushed by Good Jobs Nation, a labor group backed by the Change to Win union federation, and other progressive allies.
Ellison and Grijalva, along with Good Jobs Nation, already have a couple of executive-action victories under their belts. They successfully pressured the White House to institute two executive actions that were signed by the president earlier this year -- one setting a minimum wage of $10.10 for federal contractors, and another that would effectively bar firms that have committed wage theft against their workers from receiving federal contracts.
Most of the president's unilateral moves on the economy have been panned by congressional Republicans. After Democrats were trounced in elections around the country last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned Obama against formulating executive action on immigration reform, saying he was "going to burn himself if he continues down this path.”
Grijalva suggested that the president and fellow Democrats would burn themselves if they didn't. The way for Democrats to regain power, the congressman argued, is by aggressively pursuing liberal economic policies that have broad support, like raising the minimum wage and extending sick leave to more workers. Despite the Republican gains, ballot initiatives based on those issues passed by wide margins last week, including in red states.
"The American people, I think, voted against the lack of an economic agenda for working families, against not having a clear vision of what we want and where the government should be in promoting income equality," Grijalva said of the Democratic loss.
Under the proposal pushed by Grijalva on Monday, the White House would issue new guidelines that give preference to firms with higher labor standards in the federal procurement process. Such rules only apply to contracts involving federal money, rather than the private sector at large, but left-leaning administrations have often used procurement rules as a way to set standards in the broader economy.
Robert Borosage, co-director of the progressive Campaign for America's Future, said on the call with Grijalva that Obama ought to continue promoting his wider agenda through his power of procurement rules.
"President Obama has already established his authority over federal procurement," Borosage said. "Now he can and should take another bold step. He can put the government on the side of working people and good employers, rather than favoring exploitative employers."