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Obama pushes $9 minimum wage bill in visit to red state Texas

President Obama on Thursday declared that the nation is “poised for progress” but called on Congress to help strengthen the middle class by promoting economic polices he proposed in his State of the Union address in February.

In a 20-minute speech at a technology school outside of Austin, Texas, Obama — who has been focused on the gun control and immigration debates in recent days — promoted his idea of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, as well as increasing spending on education, worker training programs and manufacturing-innovation centers.

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Those proposals have gained little traction in the GOP-held House, which is revving up for a new fight with Obama over the debt ceiling in the fall.

Given the difficulty in moving anything legislatively, Obama sidestepped Congress on Thursday by announcing two executive actions that he claimed will help strengthen the economy: launching competitions for three innovation centers and a separate order requiring government data be made freely available so that entrepreneurs can access “troves of previously inaccessible data.” The White House said the files can be used to generate new products and services to help build businesses and create jobs.

Obama’s trip on Thursday marks the second time he has traveled to the Lone Star state in two weeks. And it comes as lawmakers will begin to take up a comprehensive immigration bill that bears strong significance for the state. Roughly 38 percent of the border state's population is Hispanic.

The trip to Texas has broader significance for the Democratic Party, which would like to see what has been a red state turn blue. Obama visited Texas a couple of times on the campaign trail last year.

For the second day in a row, White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday downplayed the notion that Obama’s appearance in Texas was part of a larger effort to turn the state blue.

“I can tell you that this is a visit focused entirely on issues of economic and development and job creation,” Carney said. “Austin is a center for innovation and development of high-tech jobs, jobs that come from the industries of the future, and that makes it an excellent place to visit to highlight the kind of activity that’s taking place in a variety of cities and states across the country where the creative energy of our entrepreneurs as well as our workers is contributing positively to economic growth and job creation.”

In his remarks, Obama said he chose Austin to deliver the speech “partly because I just love Austin.

“But also because there are some terrific things going on in this area,” he said. “And there are things going on in communities all across the country that are good models for all of America to follow.”

In a similar speech later Thursday at Applied Materials, a semiconductor and display panel manufacturer, Obama said he had also enjoyed a local BBQ joint called Stubb's, where he shared a meal with four middle-class Austin residents.

"We also had good barbecue, which is necessary for good economic growth," Obama quipped.

Even with the executive orders, Obama called on Congress to work with him to help the middle class.

“I’ve sent Congress proposals on a whole range of ideas … but some of them have been blocked in Congress, for frankly political reasons, but I’m going to keep on trying. I’m an optimistic guy,” Obama said.

“So I’m just going to keep on talking to members of Congress because I believe that America does best when we work together. Every once in a while, I’m going to need your help to lean on elected representatives and say, ‘Hey, Let’s do something.'"

The president spent part of the address reassuring the crowd that because of the nation’s “grit and determination … we’ve cleared away the rubble of the worse economic crisis in our lifetimes.”

And he reaffirmed that many sectors in the economy are “doing better,” including the “thriving” auto industry and the “booming” energy sector.

“You might not know this because, if you listen to all the doom and gloom in Washington and politics, you’re watching cable TV, sometimes you might get kinda thinking nothing’s going right,” Obama said. “But the truth is there are a lot of reasons for us to feel optimistic about where we’re headed as a country, especially after all the tough times that we’ve been through over the last several years."