Cantor presses GOP's case on overtime 'flexibility' bill for private sector workers

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) took his effort to improve the life of working Americans to the Washington, D.C., suburbs on Tuesday afternoon.

Sitting at a long, rectangular conference table on the 10th floor of a building in Falls Church, Cantor and five of his GOP colleagues held a “roundtable” discussion with six private sector workers.

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The discussion, hosted by government contracting firm Centech, took place the day before the House is set to vote on a measure that would allow hourly private sector employees to choose between earning overtime pay or comp hours if they work more than 40 hours a week.

The Working Families Flexibility Act is a part of Cantor’s Making Life Work agenda presented at the start of the year – where the GOP would be moving bills demonstrating its kinder, gentler side.

Cantor, studiously taking notes with a Bic pen provided to participants at the table, asked questions of the business owners and employees invited to the exchange. 

The No. 2 ranking House Republican introduced himself to the dozen at the table as “a member of Congress from Richmond.”

Turning to face one of the participants, Cantor asked “How do you manage right now, Karen? You said you have to take vacation time or miss work?”

Centech President Fernando Galaviz, the event host, posed his own question. “Who opposes this?”  

Cantor chuckled, alongside GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (Wash.), Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and bill sponsor Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.)

Then, in turn, Cantor, Roby and Kline shot down a handful of “talking points” used by the largely labor union opposition.

"You've got arguments that are going back years and decades ago — when, again, the workforce was a very different place than it is today — they tend to argue that employers would somehow coerce employees into taking this time. They forget that in the law — with protections in the law — that it's entirely voluntary. The employee can choose to get it, or not, and the employer can choose to give it or not. It's voluntary on both ends,” Kline explained.

Cantor took on the Democrats’ charge that this would “hit women in their paychecks.”

“This is not about saving money for anybody; this is about making life easier,” for working parents, he told the group.

“One other objection some would raise is that when the governments were given the ability to do this back in the '80s, some said it was so the governments could save money, but we know in the private sector, that there's no money saved because you have to, as an employer account for the liability, which is the comp time owed to the employee,” Cantor said.

Following the discussion, the participants held a press conference, where Cantor revealed that he was reaching out to certain senators in search of a sponsor for the measure in the upper chamber. He would not reveal the names of his targets.

On Tuesday morning, the Office of Management and Budget issued a recommendation that President Obama veto the legislation should it make it through Congress.

Explaining that the bill would be voluntary, Cantor said, "It's a head-scratcher to think why would anybody oppose such legislation."

Asked how the measure fit into the GOP's effort to portray itself as “softer and friendlier,” Cantor bristled and seized on his response.

Turning his body to face the individuals beside and behind him, Cantor said, “I would ask each and everyone of these working Americans whether they even care about remaking a political party. What they care about is making sure that their life works, that they are given the choice on how to use what they've earned. We're saying 'get the government out of the way.'"

This post was updated on May 8 at 11:03 a.m. to correct an incorrect quote.