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What can President Obama do about income inequality? Not much, says columnist

Lauren Lyster

On Tuesday President Obama released his 2015 budget putting the "final piece of his inequality agenda on the table," writes Roosevelt Fellow Mike Konczal. Konczal cites health care reform, Obama's efforts to raise the minimum wage and the proposed expansion of the earned income tax credit as key parts of this "inequality" agenda.

Related: Income inequality explosion: Top 85 = Bottom 3.5 billion

Obama's budget isn't expected to go anywhere given partisan gridlock in Congress, though there is growing consensus among Democrats and Republicans to expand the earned-income tax credit for low-wage workers, according to The Wall Street Journal. And this particular issue may gain traction in the future. Still, it requires action from Congress.

Obama has said that addressing income inequality will be a focus for his second term, but how much can he really do on his own? Jill Lawrence, columnist for The Daily Beast, says: not much.

"Our pesident can talk about focusing on these issues, but there's really nothing he can do on a large scale without Congress," she says in the video. Obama hasn't gotten much help from Congress in the last few years, "so what we see is him taking small steps that are more than symbolic, but that don't have huge impact."

Lawrence writes that "in contrast to other issues, like the environment and even gun control, presidents armed with nothing but executive powers can’t do much to affect the economy."

Lawrence points to immigration reform, which some economists have found would help the economy. Without Congress, the Obama Administration was able to issue a directive not to deport a subset of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. But that is "very far short of a path to citizenship for 11 million" undocumented immigrants.

Related: Occupy Google: Income Inequality Backlash Hits Silicon Valley

Lawrence puts the president's executive order to raise the minimum wage for new federal contractors in the same category.

It "doesn't affect that many people," she says.

Related: Absurd, insane deficit obsession making U.S. income inequality worse: Jim Steele

When it comes to the long-term unemployed, the best Obama can do without Congress is the current approach, which is basically imploring corporations to give these people a chance, says Lawrence. That's in contrast to legislation that could incentivize businesses to hire these workers. Obama's current attempt is "better than nothing, but not large scale for what he's trying to do," argues Lawrence.

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