WASHINGTON President Bush studded his State of the Union address last night with calls for several measures long sought by the restaurant industry, from the adoption of a guest-worker program for immigrants to the approval of cooperatives for buying employee health insurance.
The initiatives were included in a speech widely characterized as a call for cooperation from the new Congress, which many in the trade expect to be less pro-business than its Republican-controlled predecessor.
But Bush demonstrated that he has remained an ally to the industry, particularly on health care. The President called for extending coverage through tax incentives rather than mandating it from restaurateurs and other employers as a standard benefit for employees. As the nation’s largest private-sector employer, the restaurant business would likely be stung severely by legislation requiring coverage of all workers.
Instead, as expected, Bush called on Congress to adjust the tax codes so working Americans would take a standard deduction of $7,500 for single individuals or $15,000 for heads of households. The savings could then be used by persons who do not get health insurance through their jobs to buy coverage on their own.
Bush calculated the tax savings at $4,500 annually for a household with a yearly income of $60,000.
“Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans,” Bush said.
He also urged Congress to permit the formation of interstate association health plans, whereby businesses from a multi-state area could pool their purchasing power to buy insurance coverage at an affordable rate. The National Restaurant Association has been pushing for approval of AHPs for years.
Bush also echoed the industry’s call for a temporary worker program under which immigrants could work legally in restaurants until they returned home or sought citizenship.
“We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis,” Bush said. “As a result, they won't have to try to sneak in, and that will leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists.”
But, he added, “we'll enforce our immigration laws at the work site and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers, so there's no excuse left for violating the law.”
"We are very pleased that the President has made comprehensive immigration reform a top priority in 2007," outgoing National Restaurant Association president Steve Anderson said in a prepared statement. "We now look to Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes that the economy is producing more jobs than there are workers."