President Obama on Monday launched an all-out assault on the Republican Party, its underlying economic philosophy and even individual GOP presidential candidates, fueling bitter debates between the parties as a high-stakes federal budget battle kicks into high gear.
In a speech at the Greater Boston Labor Council’s annual Labor Day Breakfast, the president tore into Republicans as he sought to rally organized labor, a key voting bloc for Democrats. He said major social gains over the past century — including Social Security, Medicare, the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week and Obamacare — largely can be attributed to the labor of unions.
But Republicans, he said, are standing in the way of further progress and simply want to do the bidding of Wall Street.
“The fact is the verdict is in: Middle-class economics works,” Mr. Obama said. “Unfortunately, there are some folks in Washington and some folks who are trying to get to Washington who don’t want to face these facts … in their world, the only way to help the country grow and help the country get ahead is to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires.”
“And then you just wait,” he said, “you look up at the sky and prosperity will come raining down on us from whatever high rise is in your city. But that’s not how the economy works. These folks are pretty stubborn. I will give them credit. They don’t let facts or evidence get in the way.”
Mr. Obama’s speech coincided with a new executive order requiring all federal contractors to give their employees at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The order, to be finalized next year through new Labor Department regulations, will go into effect in 2017 and will apply only to new federal contracts.
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Republicans say the move will do little to grow the economy, and they urged the president to work with Congress for a broader agenda to help the middle class.
“This announcement reflects another missed opportunity to advance real reforms for working families, and it will make it even harder for small businesses to do business with the federal government,” Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Rep. Tim Walberg, Michigan Republican and chairman of the subcommittee on workforce protections, said in a statement.
“No matter how painful it’s been for the country, the president insists on a flawed agenda that’s led to a weak economy and sluggish job growth,” the two lawmakers said. “They may be good enough for him, but we believe the American people deserve better.”
Aside from promoting his new sick leave policy, Mr. Obama also used Monday’s speech to specifically attack several Republican presidential candidates.
He didn’t name names but clearly referenced Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“One presidential candidate, he is bragging about he destroyed collective bargaining rights in his state. And he says that busting unions prepares him to fight ISIL. I didn’t make that up,” Mr. Obama said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “And then there was the guy — these guys are running for office, they’re running for the presidency — who said a union deserves a punch in the face. Really? Tell me how you really feel.”
Mr. Walker said earlier this year that he has demonstrated that he can handle the pressures of being president — including those in foreign policy — partly because of his bitter fight with unions over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin.
Mr. Christie, meanwhile, has said that national teachers unions deserve a “punch in the face.”