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Washington Update
Obama Delivers State of the Union Address

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President Barack Obama delivered his annual State of the Union on Tuesday, Feb. 12, urging Congress to act on a litany of public policy issues – many of which are HR public policy issues.  The President called for passage of comprehensive immigration reform, tax and entitlement program reform, the enactment of the Paycheck Fairness Act, an increase over three years of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and his jobs bill, stating that, “A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.”

In the face of a looming budget deficit and record national debt, Obama called for cooperation from both Democrats and Republicans in order to find solutions to some of Americans’ greatest concerns.  “Let’s agree, right here and now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bill on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” he said.  The president went on to say that economic growth and prosperity were not just possible through legislative measures but through the training and education of the middle class.

President Obama also urged Congress to pass comprehensive tax reform in order to level the tax burden across all income levels.  While he called for a reduction in the corporate tax rate, he did not allude to any specific reforms to the tax code, nor did he indicate the types of entitlements on which he and the Democrats would be willing to compromise.  With the tax preference of employer-sponsored health care and contributions to retirement making up two of the largest potential pots of revenue available for deficit reduction purposes, HR professionals will play a key role in the coming months in educating lawmakers of the importance such benefits have for employees and employers alike. SHRM, as the chair of the Coalition to Protect Retirement, will play a pivotal role in leading the employer associations in this education effort. Click to learn more about the coalition.

As anticipated, President Obama voiced strong support for immigration reform, calling for the need to fix the “legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.” SHRM and its affiliate, the American Council on International Personnel, will be working to ensure any agreement on immigration reform includes a series of reforms that provide employers with the tools needed to secure the highly skilled workforce necessary to remain competitive in a global marketplace and that any employment verification system that is enacted provides employers effective tools to ensure they are hiring a legal workforce.

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