"I'm eager to work with all of you," he told a joint session of Congress in a 65-minute nationally televised speech in the House chamber. "But America does not stand still -- and neither will I.
"So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do," Obama said.
The president sketched a dozen limited initiatives on jobs, wages, retirement and other areas he said he would take without congressional approval, using the discretionary power of his office.
Among them were plans to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers by next year to $10.10 an hour from $7.25, create a new government-backed private retirement savings plan and speed up the completion of a previously announced program to connect schools to broadband wireless.
Democratic lawmakers generally applauded his plans. Republican lawmakers warned of presidential overreach and cast Obama as having given up on trying to compromise with Congress.
One lawmaker said he walked out during Obama's speech.
On the minimum wage, Obama called on Congress to match his federal contract-workers minimum-wage boost by raising the overall federal minimum wage to $10.10.
He said the current wage was "worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here," accounting for inflation. The wage was $3.35 during Reagan's presidency. It has been $7.25 since July 24, 2009. Some states and municipalities have set minimum wage levels higher than the federal level.
Many Republicans oppose raising the federal minimum wage, saying it would prompt employers to cut back on hiring, hurting low-wage workers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said when minimum-wage legislation gets to the Senate floor, Republicans would offer alternatives that would do more to create jobs, the Wall Street Journal said.
Obama also said he would direct the Treasury Department Wednesday to create a new type of savings bond called "MyRA," a play on the shorthand initials for individual retirement accounts.
The savings bonds, for workers without access to traditional retirement options, would be backed by the U.S. government, Obama said.
"MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in," he said.
The president also said his administration would establish six more high-tech manufacturing institutes this year aimed at creating well-paying jobs.
These centers would follow the two manufacturing institutes in Raleigh, N.C., and Youngstown, Ohio, he announced this month.
"Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create," Obama said. "So get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work."
His executive-power proposals also included incentives for trucks running on alternative fuels and higher efficiency standards for those using gasoline. He also announced a meeting on working families and a review of federal job training programs.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised Obama's address as "a call to action to ensure this is a year of progress for the middle class."
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., called it "a practical agenda with specific ideas."
But Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was quoted by the Journal as saying he was concerned by Obama's plans to bypass Congress if necessary.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said she was disappointed Obama didn't call for major changes to limit the surveillance of Americans' phone records.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she would have wanted the president to support the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline or "finding a viable path forward for coal," the Journal said.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., echoed Heitkamp's remarks, saying he wanted Obama to support the pipeline. He added he wanted Obama to work with Congress on changing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare."
"Instead, he's talking about taking unilateral action on a whole range of things," Thune said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement saying, "After five years, President Obama is clearly out of ideas."
"The president must understand his power is limited by our Constitution, and the authority he does have doesn't add up to much for those without opportunity in this economy," Boehner said.
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, said he walked out of the speech.
"I left early after hearing how the president is further abusing his constitutional powers," Stockman said through an aide in a statement first reported by the Dallas Morning News.
"I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly defined boundaries of the constitutional separation of powers," the statement said.
Obama "openly vowed to break his oath of office and begin enacting his own brand of law through executive decree," the statement said. "This is a wholesale violation of his oath of office and a disqualifying offense."