President Barack Obama made an aggressive plea Tuesday for bolstering the middle class in his annual State of the Union address, suggesting moves that some in the restaurant industry say could burden small businesses.
Speaking to a Republican-controlled Congress, Obama called for tax cuts for low- and middle-income families, as well as paid sick leave and an increase of the minimum wage.
American businesses have added 11.2 million private-sector jobs in the past five years, Obama said, and the state of the union is strong. But he challenged Congress, saying, “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
Obama noted that 43 million American workers have no paid sick leave, and “that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.”
The president said he would take action to help states adopt paid sick leave laws, noting that such legislation won support when it was on state ballots in November.
“Let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington,” Obama said. “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.”
Obama also called on Congress to “vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.
“If you believe you could work full time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it,” he said.
Restaurant industry representatives said they share the president’s goals on supporting the middle class, but not with government mandates that burden small businesses.
Scott DeFife, executive vice president, policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement: “We share the mutual goal of growing the economy and creating pathways to the middle class for all working Americans. We support the renewed focus on training and skill development, and reforming the nation’s immigration system.”
However, DeFife urged lawmakers to avoid “prescriptive, one-size-fits-all mandates on private-sector industries like the restaurant industry that have thrived without the added costs and intrusions of labor unions.”
Mandates like the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, have negatively impacted employment opportunities, especially for those with little or no work experience, DeFife said.
The International Franchise Association called for the restoration of the 40-hour workweek as part of the ACA, as one way Congress could reduce the burden on small business owners.
Republican lawmakers who respond to the speech said they hoped to strike deals with Obama on issues like trade and cybersecurity, as well as rewriting the tax code.
But some indicated that the president’s plan to raise taxes by $320 billion over the next decade on higher-income Americans would see little support.
“This president seeks to punish success and redistribute wealth on the federal government’s terms,” Senate Budget Committee chairman Mike Enzi, (R-Wyo.), told the Wall Street Journal.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
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