Here is your Morning Brief for the morning of December 5, 2013. Give me your feedback below and tune in to The Chad Hasty Show for these and many more topics from 8:30 to 11am. Remember, you can listen online at or on your iPhone/Android with the radioPup App.

Win McNamee, Getty Images
Win McNamee, Getty Images

Income Inequality

President Obama gave an hour long speech yesterday about income inequality in the United States and raising the minimum wage. According to The Hill, the President believes that the income gap is a fundamental threat to the country.

President Obama declared rising income inequality a “fundamental threat” to the United States on Wednesday.

Speaking in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., Obama pledged that for the remainder of his presidency, his administration would “focus all our efforts” on addressing an issue that threatens the economy and the American Dream.

The hour-long speech had all the trappings of a serious policy address, presenting a legislative agenda for the remaining three years of the Obama administration.

But Democratic strategists, liberal economists, and political scientists questioned whether it marked a real shift in focus.

Obama has long decried the growing gap between the rich and poor, and has previously touted many policies that could tackle the issue — including universal pre-K, raising the minimum wage, infrastructure growth, and extending unemployment insurance.

Equality served as the predominant theme of the president’s second inaugural address, following a campaign in which the president cast his opponent as the embodiment of the broken economic system.

But with a few exceptions, the president’s economic priorities have taken a back seat to foreign policy crises, administrative controversies and battles with Congress over government funding.

That’s fed into existing frustration with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which has watched Obama preside over a period of soaring stock prices and corporate earnings and stagnant wages and employment.

Dean Baker, co-founder of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, said he’s inclined to see Wednesday’s remarks as the “latest in the one-off speeches” that Obama gives periodically.

“It’s not as if we can identify policies that he’s been out there stumping for — that there were three things the president really wants to do, but [Speaker] John Boehner [(R-Ohio)] won’t let him have them,” he said.

But despite his skepticism, Baker said there was reason to be encouraged. He and other liberal activists applauded Obama’s embrace of the minimum wage ahead of an expected Senate vote to raise pay to more than $10 per hour.

Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, said he was also pleased to see Obama insist on the need for broad-based wage growth — something absent from his summertime economic push.

Mishel said he remains doubtful that even with the Senate vote, any meaningful economic legislation will move before the next election. But he said if Obama is serious about refocusing his second term on income inequality, he can find ways to show that it’s a priority.

“How about having dinner with some minimum wage workers? How about marching with the fast food workers?” Mishel said. “He can do more.”

Jacob Hacker, a Yale University professor who recently published a book on the effect of income inequality on American politics, said he’ll be watching to see how Obama uses executive action and the nomination process — which has become simpler after Senate Democrats changed the filibuster’s rules — to pursue his stated agenda.

“There are going to be some things he can do to carry this agenda forward on his own, especially now that he may actually be able to nominate people to the executive branch and judiciary,” he said.

Hacker said the address was also an opportunity for the president to rally his base before the midterm elections.

“It may be the chance to invigorate support among Democrats who have been dismayed by the rollout of the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Democratic strategist Tad Devine agreed, noting that the speech comes at a time where “people all across the country are feeling squeezed.”

Protests by low-wage workers at fast food chains and big box retailers have grabbed headlines during the holiday shopping season. Within the past month, both New Jersey and the District of Columbia have moved to raise their minimum wages.

New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio won his race decisively after focusing his platform on the separation between the haves and have-nots within the city. And last week, Pope Francis denounced “an economy of exclusion and inequality.”

Devine said by hammering this economic message, the president can invigorate minority and low-income voters who vote less frequently in midterm elections, but represented a sizable part of his base during the 2008 and 2012 elections.

“This, more than any issue, is going to energize voters who in the past have not participated in the midterm elections,” Devine said. “It would be a mistake if he doesn›t continue to talk about this issue on a sustained basis.”

Obama himself admitted Wednesday that the “elephant in the room” was the inability to deliver on his goals because of partisan differences.

“I realize we are not going to resolve all of our political debates over the best ways to reduce inequality and increase upward mobility this year or next year or in the next five years,” he said.

Sure enough, Republicans were quick to point out that Obama was railing against disparities that had only grown during his five years in office.

“Perhaps even more stunning is that while the president is acknowledging the failure of his economic policies, his tonic is just more of the same,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner.

But Obama signaled that he would more aggressively challenge Republicans to “offer their own” ideas to address inequality.

“You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not just what you›re against,” Obama said. “It›s not just enough anymore to say get the government out of the way and let the unfettered market take care of it.”

I assume the President never brought up that minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage for a family of 4. I assume the President didn't talk about the importance of education and moving up in the world. I assume the President didn't speak about living within one's means. Instead he proposed ideas that would hurt business, employment, and the economy. Makes sense.

Deadline Looming

Could there be another partial government shutdown? It's been two months since the last shutdown and according to FOX News, lawmakers are struggling to meet the new deadline.

Yes, it's that time of year -- again. Just two months after the last partial government shutdown ended, lawmakers are once again struggling to meet the deadline for funding the government.

As part of the short-term agreement struck in mid-October, Congress gave itself until Jan. 15 to pass a budget, and until Dec. 13 to reach a tentative deal at the committee level. It's Dec. 4, and despite weeks of talks the budget negotiations have only crept forward. And Congress really only has five more days this month to do anything. While the House is in session, the Senate doesn't return until next week -- and Speaker John Boehner plans to adjourn the House for holiday recess next Friday.

"The speaker is very serious about us being out of here on the 13th," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said.

There may be little stomach on Capitol Hill for another shutdown showdown. The last 16-day standoff helped drive public approval of Congress to historic lows. And while President Obama took heat for refusing to negotiate, Republican leaders emerged from the battle bruised -- and with little to show for it, having failed to win any major delay in ObamaCare.

But no bill is yet on the table that could avert one.

This time around, the debate centers around the spending levels for 2014, and the so-called sequester. Republicans want to hold down spending, while Democrats want to boost that number.

With so little time to cut a deal, some lawmakers are talking about passing another stopgap spending bill to buy more time to negotiate. A letter, obtained Wednesday by Fox News, from 18 House Republicans to House leadership encouraged them to pass such an interim spending bill.

But not everyone's on board.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., is adamant that he does not want another stopgap spending bill to fund the government past Jan. 15.

"I want to see that pressure remains to get a number," Rogers said Tuesday.

There are also questions about whether the House could possibly get the votes to pass such a bill.

A lot of conservatives simply don't like the idea of another stopgap measure, known in Washington as a continuing resolution, or CR. And on the other side of the aisle, Democrats are concerned that a CR would keep spending too low. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday he wouldn't accept a CR that renews the budget figure at $967 billion, keeping the sequester in place.

Amid the debate over whether to go big or small in the next budget bill, top negotiators returned to Washington this week for another round of talks. Leading the effort are Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The panel of negotiators has given off mixed signals about how far along they might be.

"If you define success by taking things off the table, then we're getting success," said the Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., House Democrats' top negotiator. "The negotiations work by subtraction."

While lawmakers are negotiating this week, several senior leadership aides suggest that the real deadline is Dec. 9 -- to allow for the mechanics of actually putting the plan together and rounding up the votes.

Even if the panel led by Murray and Ryan is still talking, it's possible the House could move ahead on a short-term bill, if only to apply pressure on the Senate.

House GOP sources told Fox News on Wednesday that Ryan is "optimistic" that the ongoing talks could produce a small deal. But these sources said if there is no agreement by Dec. 13, the House will pass a short-term CR to keep funding the government at the $967 billion level as required by law.

A Ryan spokesman said the congressman "is committed to finding common ground. He hopes both parties can work together to cut spending in a smarter way."

A senior Democratic Senate leadership source close to the ongoing budget talks told Fox News that while there's no deal yet and things could fall apart, "there is lots of reason to believe we're on a good path."

The most likely scenario would see a deal announced sometime between Friday and Tuesday. It would not have to be voted on by the budget conference panel itself and will likely enjoy the advance blessing of Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meaning it could proceed directly to the respective floors.

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