President Obama will be in Wisconsin later today, delivering remarks on his new overtime policy, which is probably a bigger deal than much of the political world realizes. This is, after all, a policy that will likely put more money in a lot of workers' paychecks.
As we talked about
the other day, under the status quo, there's an income threshold for mandatory overtime: $23,660. Those making more than that can be classified by employers as "managers" who are exempt from overtime rules. The Obama administration's Labor Department has spent the last several months working on the new plan, which raises the threshold to $50,440 -- more than double the current level.
Republicans and some business groups won't like the policy, but there's not much they can do about it -- this falls within the Labor Department's regulatory powers, so the policy will be implemented whether GOP critics like it or not.
The estimable E.J. Dionne Jr. makes a persuasive case
, though, that there's no reason for Republicans to reflexively oppose a policy like this one.
In discussing rising inequality, we often act as if the trend is a natural development about which we can do nothing. Of course, big economic forces are at work. But government rules and laws -- on pay, health care, labor rights and taxes -- can improve workers' standing or they can make the disparities worse. Government has a choice, and there is no purely neutral ground on this question. [...] In a very crowded Republican presidential field, will any candidate find it in his or her interest to break with the party's orthodoxy on government regulations and labor rights? Will any of them have the temerity to appeal to their party's many working-class supporters by making the point that Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and other Democrats are sure to advance: that reinforcing our "conservative" values about the honor of work often requires what are usually seen as "progressive" measures by government to keep workers from being short-changed?
Those are excellent questions. The answer, at least for now, appears to be, "No."
Four days after the White House released the broad details of the president's new policy on overtime, exactly zero Republican presidential candidates have expressed support for the idea. That's not surprising, of course -- agreeing with Obama on anything probably isn't a wise strategy for GOP candidates in a crowded primary -- but some have taken the extra step of condemning a perfectly sensible measure.
"President Obama's overtime-pay mandate is filled with job-killing incentives that will drastically increase the cost of hiring new workers. Government shouldn't be in the business of mandating how much employers pay, or the level of benefits they provide."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), whose state will welcome the president today, isn't impressed
either. "The president's effort is a political pitch but the reality is this will lead to lower base pay and benefits and will cut workers' hours and flexibility in the workplace," the governor told USA Today
Got that, workers who make $24,000 a year? When your boss has you work overtime, and designates you as a "manager" so you can't earn overtime compensation, Republican presidential candidates think that's fine.
This afternoon, President Obama will make a very different case.