Democratic presidential hopefuls criticized the Bush administration Tuesday for suggesting how employers could avoid paying overtime to 1.3 million workers who would be newly eligible in its proposal.

The Labor Department (search) has repeatedly touted the premium pay that 1.3 million lower-wage workers would be guaranteed under its plan to revamp overtime pay requirements (search). But the proposal also provides options to employers to avoid those increased costs.

"Instead of doing whatever it takes to create jobs, it seems like George W. Bush is working overtime to make life harder for working families," presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) of Connecticut said in a statement Tuesday. "The Bush assault on working people won't stop until we give the president a pink slip."

New overtime regulations were proposed last March after employers complained they were saddled with costly lawsuits filed by workers who claimed they were unfairly denied overtime pay.

But the regulations have stirred debate over how many workers would be stripped of their right to overtime pay. The department says it will issue a final rule in March. Congressional approval is not necessary.

Employers' options to reduce costs, according to the department's plan, include cutting workers' hourly wages and adding the overtime to equal the original salary, or raising salaries to the new $22,100 annual threshold so they would be ineligible.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the options were part of "an economic analysis that's required under the rule-making process."

He argued that the overtime changes would "enable the Department of Labor to make sure that workers better understand their rights under the law, and that employers understand their obligations and pay their employees properly."

But Sen. John Kerry (search) of Massachusetts said the employer options provided by the department to reduce costs are the Bush administration's "how-to guide for big business to avoid paying workers the overtime pay they've earned."

"When will the Bush administration devise a how-to plan to put people back to work?" he asked.

Sen. John Edwards (search) of North Carolina said: "Working men and women deserve a president who will fight for them and their hard-earned dollars, and not a president who helps big corporations find loopholes to cheat their employees out of decent pay for a hard day's work," he said.