Yarmuth supports President Obama's OT rule but says Congress should've played a role in crafting proposal

07/03/2015 05:28 PM

President Barack Obama’s plan to expand overtime pay may not have passed Congress on its own, but Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Washington believes lawmakers were better equipped to examine the issue and enact resolutions.

Obama announced Tuesday that the Labor Department will grant overtime benefits to salaried workers making up to $50,440 annually, an increase from the Federal Labor Standards Act’s current threshold of $23,660 per year. The proposal has drawn praise from organized labor and scorn from pro-business groups like the National Retail Federation.

The move had been touted to benefit up to 5 million working Americans, but Politico reported Thursday that the Labor Department estimates about 1.2 million will see additional pay under the plan since employers will likely keep their weekly workload to 40 hours. The department anticipates the new rule, which will take effect next year, will generate $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion for workers, according to the report.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth told Pure Politics on Thursday that while he supports Obama’s move to expand overtime benefits and undo a “cynical” and “dangerous” trend of reclassifying hourly workers as managers, it should have been vetted by Congress.

“I don’t know exactly how much thought went into the executive action the president took in terms of analyzing options to doing what he did,” the Louisville Democrat said.

“I think that was an interesting approach he used by setting a cap on salary as the standard, but again, that’s the type of thing that Congress with taking testimony, talking to a lot of different stakeholders probably has a better opportunity to solve, so I wish we had done it that way but maybe there will still be an opportunity to do something along those lines.”

Obama also announced on Wednesday his administration’s plans to reopen the U.S. and Cuban embassies and formally restore diplomatic relations July 20.

The president appealed to the GOP-led Congress to cease its stance against normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations, but U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threw cold water on those prospects during a Commerce Lexington speech on Thursday, telling the crowd that the Senate likely will not confirm an ambassador to the island nation.

“You would think that the normalization of relations with Cuba would be accompanied by some modification of their behavior,” McConnell said, according to a report by the Associated Press. “I don’t see any evidence at all that they are going to change their behavior. So I doubt if we’ll confirm an ambassador, they probably don’t need one.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said Obama “is handing the Castros a lifetime dream of legitimacy without getting a thing for the Cuban people being oppressed by this brutal communist dictatorship,” according to a report by The New York Times on Wednesday.

Yarmuth, though, says both countries can benefit from a new round of diplomacy.

“I think this is the beginning of a transformation of our relationship with Cuba,” he said. “You know, the Castros are not going to be around forever. They’re going to pass along within a relatively short period of time, and I think this reinstitution of official relationships with Cuba sets the framework and the foundation for a much more productive, mutually beneficial relationship.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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