President Barack Obama targeted workplace benefits in his final State of the Union address Tuesday night, calling for “benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.”
“It’s not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber,” Obama said, calling Social Security and Medicare “more important than ever.”
At the same time, Obama touted his signature Affordable Care Act during his address, saying that the law has driven down the nation’s uninsured rate, slowed healthcare inflation and created jobs.
“Nearly 18 million have gained coverage so far. Healthcare inflation has slowed. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law,” he said.
But his few passing remarks about the ACA weren’t enough for the American Benefits Council, which took issue with the fact that the controversial Cadillac tax went unmentioned.
“We thought the speech was more remarkable for what he didn’t say,” says Jason Hammersla, senior director of communications of the Washington, D.C.-based benefits advocacy group. “Namely, in a speech that was largely about unity and bipartisanship, he did not mention the repeal of the Cadillac tax.”
Of course, the Cadillac tax is facing extreme scrutiny from both sides of the aisle, as both Democrats and Republicans are calling for its repeal.
“Measures to repeal the tax have substantial support in both chambers of Congress [nearly 300 total cosponsors in the House, and 90 Senators voted for a repeal amendment at the end of last year] and the tax has already been delayed for two years,” Hammersla says.
The president seemed to acknowledge the controversy surrounding his massive healthcare law, admitting it was unlikely that lawmakers would agree on healthcare “anytime soon.”
Still, he said, there should be bipartisan efforts to improve economic security, including being able to save for retirement.
Obama called for portable retirement savings, telling lawmakers that even if a worker changes jobs more often, “he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.”
The ABC called his remarks on retirement a “positive” message.
“If employees desire portability, employers want to be able to provide it for them,” Hammersla says. “In fact, the strategic plan document that we issued in September 2014 specifically calls for policymakers to ‘support voluntary, simple, portable model plans for retirement income or retiree health coverage.’ The challenge is that there is some disagreement on the best way to provide that portability.
“The kinds of measures that the president has supported in the past — such as state- or locally-managed retirement plans or the MyRA program — are somewhat detached from the employer-sponsored system. But we believe that retirement plan portability is not incompatible with the employer-sponsored system that has been so strong and successful. The administration can help by giving employers the flexibility to design their retirement programs in such a way as to provide portability and transparency to employees while minimizing administrative burdens for employers.”
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