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Proposal to Pay Contractor Employees Living Wages Sparks Republican Outcry

President Obama plans to change the criteria used to award all federal government contracts in order to reward companies who pay employees better than average wages and offer benefits. Rather than cheering the thought of having more government money end up in individual workers’ pockets, (rather than in CEOs’ bank accounts) Republicans are booing the initiative.

The proposal, which sources tell The New York Times is designed not to raise the cost of contracting, seems simple on the surface.

One federal official said the proposed policy would encourage procurement officers to favor companies with better compensation packages only if choosing them did not add substantially to contract costs. As an example, he said, if two companies each bid $10 million for a contract, and one had considerably better wages and pensions than the other, that company would be favored.

John Podesta showed the White House Office of Management and Budget last year that more than 400,000 people employed by government contractors make $22,000 or less per year — well below the poverty line for a family of four and less than half of the U.S. median income — and new studies show that many such people are reliant on Medicaid and food stamps.

But if you thought a proposal to reward companies financially for paying their workers better would be relatively non-controversial in Washington, you’d be wrong. The business community, as represented by the Chamber of Commerce, hates any government program that uses a company’s behavior to determine how many of your tax dollars should be spent enriching its CEO.

Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor at the United States Chamber of Commerce, called the plan a “warmed-over version” of President Bill Clinton’s regulations that sought to bar federal agencies from awarding contracts to companies with a record of breaking labor, environmental or consumer laws. President George W. Bush vacated those regulations soon after taking office.“We strongly opposed the Clinton blacklist regulations,” Mr. Johnson said, “and this appears worse than that.”

Yes, it’s truly terrible to think that companies that break laws might be barred from participating in government programs that reward them financially! Just because having a record of illegal activity keeps individual Americans from getting many government jobs, a felony record can keep individuals from voting or exercising their Second Amendment Rights, and committing certain kinds of crimes entitles the government to monitor offenders’ behavior for the rest of their days shouldn’t mean, according to the Chamber of Commerce, that companies should be subjected to the terribly harsh punishment of not receiving tax dollars. And, according to the Chamber, allowing the government to choose, all other things being equal, to award a contract to a company that pays its workers enough money to disqualify them for food stamps or Medicaid is just a misuse of government power.

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