September 9, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Obama praised for jobs speech despite ENDA omission

President Barack Obama addresses the joint session of Congress (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT advocates praised the initiatives President Obama set forth in his jobs speech Thursday night — even though his address made no direct reference to the lack of federal job protections for LGBT people.

Speaking before a joint session of Congress, Obama unveiled a $447 billion plan — dubbed the American Jobs Act — that aims to stimulate the economy through payroll tax cuts, tax breaks for companies hiring new workers, funds for infrastructure development and regulatory reform.

“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities,” Obama said. “The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”

Whether Congress will be able to pass Obama’s plan — or any jobs initiative — remains to be seen. So far this year, Congress and the White House argued until the absolute deadline to pass a resolution to keep funding the U.S. government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, and again bickered until the last possible day to come an agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid default on the country’s financial obligations.

Questions also persist regarding Obama’s approach to paying for his $447 billion initiative. The president is calling on the congressional “Super Committee” established by the debt deal to come up with the additional deficit reduction needed to pay for the measure in addition to meeting an already established target of $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.

One problem with job security that Obama didn’t mention in his speech was the lack of federal non-discrimination protections faced by LGBT Americans in the workplace. Firing someone for being gay is legal in 29 states and firing someone for being transgender is legal in 35 states.

Obama campaigned on passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar such job bias against LGBT people in the public and private workforce — but the bill has languished for years and didn’t even see a committee vote in the last Congress when Democrats were in control of both the House and Senate.

No mention of ENDA or the lack of federal workplace protections for LGBT people was included in the president’s remarks.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the president continues to support ENDA, but the purpose of his speech was to address the larger jobs crisis faced by all Americans.

“On Thursday, the President announced that he is sending to Congress the American Jobs Act — a set of ideas supported by both Democrats and Republicans that Congress must pass right away,” Inouye said. “The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans, including LGBT Americans. The President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, but Thursday’s remarks were about the American Jobs Act, and not everything we support.”

Despite the lack of any explicit mention, LGBT advocates praised the plan Obama unveiled on Thursday and said the policies would benefit all Americans — including LGBT people.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Obama’s proposals would be “very positive” for LGBT Americans and transgender people in particular.

Keisling said Obama’s proposal to offer a tax credit of up to $4,000 to companies that hire potential workers searching for a job for more than six months is particularly important to transgender workers.

“We are disproportionately likely to be among the long-term unemployed and disproportionately likely to have faced recessionary discrimination during this current downturn,” Keisling said. “So $4,000 job credits for employers who hire long-term unemployed and prohibiting discrimination against long-term unemployed will be especially helpful and important.”

Keisling said a specific mention of LGBT issues in the speech wouldn’t have been a relevant point for Obama during his remarks.

“It was not at all inappropriate that he did not specifically mention support for specific LGBT priorities,” she said. “It wasn’t that kind of speech.”

Selisse Berry, executive director of the San Francisco-based Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, commended Obama for setting a goal for businesses to be innovative leaders and said companies can achieve the goal by embracing diversity, including LGBT people.

“America’s most successful businesses are doing just that through their policies and practices,” Berry said. “And the president knows the importance of diversity as well, since this administration has taken concrete steps to end discrimination against LGBT people in the federal workforce.”

Following the president’s speech, the White House issued statements from more than 40 organizations and Democratic lawmakers praising the plan. One of the statements in favor of the proposals came from Mary Kay Henry, a lesbian and president of the Service Employees International Union.

“President Obama displayed the leadership America needs by laying out a strong agenda to get America back to work,” Henry said. “The proposals he outlined are an excellent starting point in the crucial effort to create good jobs now.”

Henry called on Congress to take action and said Americans are watching Republicans closely to see if they’ll “play politics” or take action to turn around what she called the national jobs crisis.

“The Republicans’ plan to further cut corporate taxes will do nothing to put Americans back to work, just as the recent record corporate profits have not led to job growth,” Henry said.

In another statement provided by the White House, Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell, co-founders of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, spoke out in favor of Obama’s plan.

“President Obama demonstrated strong leadership and clear vision addressing the joint session of Congress,” Nelson and Mitchell said. “While far too many in Washington, D.C. focus on the political horse race, the president shined the spotlight where it belongs; on the millions of Americans, many of them LGBT, who are working too hard to give their families a better life to read the latest poll numbers.”

Nelson and Mitchell took particular note of Obama’s plan to expedite payments to small businesses and to extend payroll tax cuts for these companies.

“As the president said, our recovery will not come from politicians but from businesses and talented individuals throughout the country, including those represented by the NGLCC,” Nelson and Mitchell said. “We agree that business owners need timely payments and tax incentives to pay their employees, hire new staff and invest in new opportunities.

Given the difficulties of passing ENDA with Republicans in control of the House, some LGBT advocates have been calling for an executive order that would prohibit the U.S. government from contracting with companies that don’t have non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. Obama could take such action without concern over having to move legislation through Congress.

During his speech, Obama enumerated some initiatives he could take on his own accord without congressional involvement to improve the job situation — but an executive order for LGBT workers wasn’t among them.

“My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own,” Obama said. “For example, if you’re a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we’re going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do now. We’re also planning to cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly-growing start-up companies from raising capital and going public.”

Additionally, Obama said his administration would work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near four percent, which he said would put more than $2,000 a year in the pockets of American families.

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, is among the LGBT advocates who have been calling on the president to issue such an executive order against LGBT job bias.

Even without mention of the directive, Socarides said Obama gave “a strong political and policy message.”

“It was a high-toned message and I think everyone in the LGBT community very much wants him to succeed at this, as all Americans do,” Socarides said. “And on jobs and labor issues, we will keep reminding him we still need federal protections for all LGBT workers, we still need ENDA, we still need an executive order on federal contracting. And we fully expect he will deliver for us on these, too.”

Joint session of Congress (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

4 Comments
  • WE NEED TO PASS THIS BILL….RIGHT AWAY.

    OBAMA 2012

  • We must NOT pass this bill at all. It will add to the deficit. There is nothing in it that hasn’t been proposed before.

    Perry 2012
    Obama= loser. Google “Obama bingo card bullshit” and play the latest game!!

  • The bill as is as bogus as those praising it. The esclusion of any mention of ENDA was to allow Obama to continue his strategy of pandering to bigots.

    After the Republican debates and Obama’s address we got another chance to evaluate the political elites who share power in the US. What we see is more of the same – Democrats and Republicans are political prostitutes who have utter contempt for working people.

    As background keep in mind that it was their votes and signatures on bills that began deregulation under Carter and Reagan. They pushed for exporting trade union jobs under Bush1and Clinton and for the complete deregulation of predatory banksters under Clinton(3). Bush2 eased the way for the banksters to loot the economy, slash the taxes of the rich, export more jobs and embezzle hundreds of billions from the treasury to gift the rich (TARP). Obama’s continued all of Bush’s policies and vastly increased the theft from the treasury to the looter classes.

    By far the worst effect of their bipartisan policies is massive unemployment. It’s hovered around 16% for over two years and involves 25 million unemployed and underemployed. That figure may not mean too much to those who live off stocks and bonds, the managerial class or the political elites. But for working people caught in that nightmare it means unrelenting toxic stress levels, homelessness, malnutrition, poor or no health care, spiraling domestic violence, escalating suicide rates and being victimized by the police and courts when they seek extralegal relief.

    The unemployed, underemployed, the homeless and those tossed without rhyme or reason into the cesspool of poverty are our brothers and sisters. Any one of us, at any time, could end up in their shoes, homeless, hopeless and looking at a unhappy life and an early death.

    When we evaluate the Democrats and Republicans and their attitude towards unemployment it’s useful to examine how they’ve treated the rich. The rich got almost $500 billion dollars in TAX CUTS over the last decade. Add to that the cost of servicing the debt created by those cuts – $400 billion dollars – and the tab comes close to nearly a trillion dollars. The wealthy are not creating jobs, they’re spending that money or hoarding it. Obama and the Democrats publically claim to oppose tax cuts for the rich but they’ve consistently voted for or signed extensions of those tax cuts.

    The rich got TARP, a $700 billion dollar gift to the looters who lost money when their housing bubble burst which will end up costing more than $50 billion dollars. In addition to TARP the rich got 1.25 trillion dollars in recently exposed loans from the Fed.

    The rich got the bulk of the benefits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which cost $787 billion dollars. Of that roughly $81 billion dollars was used on things like unemployment benefits. Most of it was wasted in sweetheart contracts with corporations and banks. Not one penny went to help people facing foreclosures.

    The cost of the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Bailouts was $317 billion dollars. That money did not stop one foreclosure.

    That equals four trillion, one hundred and fifty four billion dollars. 80 billion was for workers and the rest went to the rich. All these actions will have a trifling effect as the economy slides further and further into the pit. European central banks are holding on by their fingernails, ready to fall and create a landslide that’ll drag the US economy down with them. US inflation rates in energy consumables and foodstuffs are close to 25% excluding the housing market.

    Obama’s new job plan is a rehash of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It’s worthless from the point of view of ending the Depression or ending the nightmare of massive unemployment.

    What’s needed is a 100% tax on annual income totaling over $250,000.00 a year from all sources including income from trusts, investments, and bequests for individuals and families. And since corporations are individuals the same thing should apply to their profits after expense not including payments to stockholders.

    We should abrogate all agreements to pay off the national dept to rich people or foreigners while protecting the few investments of working people.

    Then we can create a real jobs program to zero out unemployment by funding massive Manhattan Project style programs to green industry, agriculture and the infrastructure, guarantee good housing and education, institute socialized medicine and end hunger and malnutrition here and around the world.

  • Obama is nothing but a bogus politician and a liar who is playing politics, like he did with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but the suckers in our own community blindly follow him and still defend him to this day like sheep! Obama does not earn our respect or our support in 2012.

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