President Obama offered few policy prescriptions Monday for working parents who are struggling in the post-recession economy, but blamed employers for not making their lives easier.
Speaking at the first White House summit for working families in Washington, Mr. Obama said parents aren't to blame for spending too little time with their children or for being unable to afford quality child care.
"These problems are not typically the result of poor planning or too little diligence on the parts of moms or dads, and they cannot just be fixed by working harder or being an even better parent," Mr. Obama said. "All too often they are the result of outdated policies and old ways of thinking."
But the president gave no proposals Monday to expand workplace benefits nationwide. He announced a limited executive action directing federal agencies to implement existing workplace flexibility initiatives and to institute a new "right to request" work policy.
White House aides blame congressional Republicans for the lack of new initiatives.
"There are a lot of good ideas that are being blocked in Congress right now," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, citing the GOP's opposition to raising the federal minimum wage.
House Republicans said Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies in the Senate are holding up several good House-passed bills that would help working families.
"House Republicans are focused on expanding opportunity and economic security for middle-class families, President Obama's policies are only making things harder," said the office of Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, in a statement.
The White House hosted the summit with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, in part as a way to motivate women voters in this election year. The president said paid family leave, child care, workplace flexibility and better wages "should be part of our bottom line as a society."
"Parents who work full-time should earn enough to pay the bills, and they should be able to head off to work every day knowing that their children are in good hands," Mr. Obama said.
The president denied that his motives were political, saying he takes the issue personally because of the women in his life.
"I was raised by strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me," he said. "I take this personally because I'm the husband of — of a brilliant woman who's struggled to balance work and raising our girls when I was away. Most of all, I take it personally because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies. And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them."
When it comes to expanding workers' benefits, Mr. Obama even said the United States should be more like France.
"Other countries know how to do this," he said of granting workers more generous paid leave. "If France can figure this out, we can figure it out."
France has some of the most liberal work rules in the European Union, including a legal mandate of maximum 35-hour work week and 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Mr. Obama also spoke with business leaders at the event. The White House brought all its star power to the summit, with first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his wife, Jill, also addressing the crowd.
California, Rhode Island and New Jersey offer workers paid leave, but it's unclear how Mr. Obama would fund a national system. White House aides said the president wanted to start a national conversation on the issue.
In 2009, Mr. Obama instituted six weeks of paid family leave for White House employees, but he lacks the authority to extend such a policy unilaterally to other federal agencies.
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