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State of Union address: President Barack Obama avoids lawsuits

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Barack Obama vowed to act on his own but offered modest or vague ideas that hardly stretched what Americans think of as a president's power. Reuters Barack Obama vowed to act on his own but offered modest or vague ideas that hardly stretched what Americans think of as a president's power. Reuters
SummaryBarack Obama stayed away from the kind of bold, detailed proposals.

Despite anticipation that President Barack Obama would seize on his authority to act without U.S. congressional approval, his State of the Union speech appeared to mention only a handful of executive actions that could face legal challenges.

In his Tuesday night speech, Barack Obama stayed away from the kind of bold, detailed proposals that some lawmakers and media pundits said beforehand would shake up his relationship with Congress, legal experts said afterward.

Barack Obama vowed to act on his own but offered modest or vague ideas that hardly stretched what Americans think of as a president's power, and that were unlikely to send business organizations rushing to file many lawsuits in courthouses.

Barack Obama's proposals to go it alone included a minimum wage increase for federal contract workers, creation of a "starter savings account" to help millions of people save for retirement and plans to establish new fuel efficiency standards for trucks.

Despite the administration's buildup before the speech, the high-flying rhetoric of Barack Obama's address itself and a promise of more such proposals, Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative legal group, said the president was not very explicit about what executive actions he might take.

"The theme was clearly there," Levey said. "It might have been a little more conciliatory, a little less explicit than I anticipated."

ONE MENTION

Exactly once in the 6,800-word speech to lawmakers - when Barack Obama said he would require a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour in future federal contracts - did he use the phrase "executive order."

It is possible that contractors could sue over the requirement, although any such lawsuit would need to overcome the Procurement Act of 1949, which gives presidents the power to set contracting rules that they think "promote efficiency and economy."

A federal judge in Maryland cited the law in 2009 when he upheld an executive order from President George W. Bush that required contractors to check the immigration status of their employees.

"Under longstanding statutory authority, presidents can issue directives that facilitate the efficiency of federal contracting, and courts have historically accorded some deference to presidential policy determinations on this issue," Boris Bershteyn, a former Barack Obama regulatory official, wrote in an email.

Even the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, told reporters on Tuesday that Barack Obama "probably has the authority" to issue the

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