House Republicans are launching their first concerted effort to win back female voters on Tuesday with the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, a bill that’s being packaged as a lifeline to working moms across the country.
Unfortunately, the legislation is a particularly cruel hoax—a slick attempt to give employers more power, and hourly workers much less.
At first blush, the idea sounds good. The bill would allow hourly workers to convert overtime pay into time off: in other words, instead of getting paid for extra hours, they could stockpile additional vacation time. The pitch here is that working parents could have more flexibility in their schedule and an enhanced ability to balance work and family. “This week, we’ll pass [Representative] Martha Roby’s bill to help working moms and dads better balance their lives between work and their responsibilities as parents,” House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday.
The GOP is specifically invested in convincing women this bill is for them. The GOP spent $20,000 last week on a digital ad campaign focusing on so-called “mommy blogs,” like Ikeafans.com and MarthaStewart.com, and geo-targeting Democrats in swing districts. “Will Rep. Collin Peterson stand up for working moms?” one iteration of the ad asked.
A fawning National Review profile of Roby, the bill’s sponsor, explains how she wasn’t sure she could handle a run for Congress in 2009 because of concerns about taking care of her children while running for a House seat and potentially becoming a member of Congress—and how those concerns have now inspired her to push this important legislation.
But it’s not too hard to see how pernicious this legislation truly is. “Flexibility” is a word that should make hourly workers check for their wallets—employers hold most of the power in the relationship with hourly workers, which is all the more true if they are not unionized. So “flexibility” to decide if you want to get paid for overtime work, instead of getting fewer hours later on, can quickly become a way for employers to withhold payment for overtime work while also cutting your hours down the road.
Over 160 labor unions and women’s groups sent a letter to members of Congress on Monday, protesting that the Working Families Flexibility Act is “a smoke-and-mirrors bill that offers a pay cut for workers without any guaranteed flexibility or time off to care for their families or themselves.”
Republicans say this isn’t true, and that there are safeguards in the bill that would prevent employers from muscling their employees into surrendering overtime pay. “It is illegal for them to do that. There are enforcement mechanisms in the bill,” Eric Cantor said in February.
But this is where they’re being really tricky—the bill does give workers the right to sue over such intimidation, but denies them the right to use much quicker, and cheaper, administrative remedies through the Department of Labor. It also gives the Department of Labor no additional funds to investigate nor enforce provisions of the act.
So if hourly workers get intimidated into giving up overtime pay in exchange for working even fewer hours down the road, they’re more than welcome to hire a lawyer and sue—a rather improbable outcome given how expensive that might be. Otherwise, tough luck.
There also isn’t quite as much flexibility in the act as it seems. As the National Partnership for Women and Families points out, while the bill does allow hourly workers to turn overtime pay into as much as 160 hours of comp time, it gives them no right to decide when they can use that time—even if there’s a family emergency. That’s still entirely up to employers.
Further hampering workers’ flexibility is that once they bank more than eighty hours in comp time, employers can unilaterally decide to cash out any additional hours. Also, workers who decide later that they need to cash out the comp time they’ve earned can do so—but employers have thirty days to cut the check, which could certainly be a problem for hourly workers on a tight budget.
Moreover, this isn’t even a new idea. Republicans proposed this same bill ten years ago, prompting the late Molly Ivins to remark “the slick marketing and smoke on this one are a wonder to behold.”
The legislation, simply, is a straightforward boon to big employers. “It pretends to offer time off but actually asks [employees] to work overtime hours without being paid,” Judy Lichtman of the NPWF told reporters on a conference call Monday. She added that it’s simply a “no-cost, no-interest loan to the employer.”
House Democrats will be nearly, if not entirely, unified in opposition. “The Working Families Flexibility Act sounds good, but it is a sham and we are going to call it out for what it is. It would cause more harm than good and we are going to reject it,” Representative Rose DeLauro said yesterday during the same conference call.
Due to the Republican majority in the House, the bill is likely to pass on Tuesday, but Senate passage seems dubious at best, and the White House has already issued a veto threat.
Of course, if Republicans are indeed interested in providing extra flexibility to help hourly workers balance family concerns with their jobs, they could pass paid family leave legislation. Only 11 percent of all private industry workers have access to paid family leave, and the United States is the only high-income country in the world not to mandate it. Unlike the Working Families Flexibility Act, paid family leave is generally something the employee has the unilateral ability to exercise.
Unfortunately, that’s something Congressional Republicans are deeply opposed to enacting. They blocked a proposal from President Obama in 2011 that would have created a $1.5 billion fund to push paid family and medical leave programs at the state level, and several similar efforts to enact such laws at the federal level.
In 1993, when Congress considered and ultimately passed the Family and Medical Leave Act—which mandates only twelve weeks of unpaid family time off—Republicans were apoplectic. One House member from North Carolina called it “nothing short of Europeanization—a polite term for socialism.” A young John Boehner, years from becoming House Speaker, said the legislation would “be the demise of some [businesses].
“And as that occurs,” he said, “the light of freedom will grow dimmer.”
Additional reporting by Nation DC intern Anna Simonton.
UPDATE: The final vote on the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 has been pushed back to Wednesday.
Also, it’s worth knocking down a particular Republican talking point on the bill, as expressed by Eric Cantor’s communications director to me over Twitter, among many other places. They argue that, since federal workers already enjoy the ability to trade overtime pay for extra time off, workers in the private sector should enjoy the same rights.
The problem with this argument is that the federal government is not a profit-driven employer likely to muscle workers into giving up overtime pay in return for reduced hours. If that did happen, federal workers are unionized and enjoy many employment protections that Walmart workers, for example, do not.
It’s important to note here that, during the mark-up for this bill last month, Representative Timothy Bishop, a Democrat from New York, offered an amendment that would make the Working Families Flexibility Act apply “only if the employer enters into an employment contract with the employee that provides employment protections substantially similar to those provided to Federal, State or local employees under civil services laws.”
Every Republican voted against it, and the measure was defeated.*
*A prior version of this story said four Democrats also voted against the Bishop amendment, but they were just not present for the vote.
By: George Zornick, The Nation, May 7, 2013
This week, House Republicans are rolling out a plan they hope will boost the party’s appeal among working families, by giving private sector workers the option of converting overtime pay to paid time off. Pushing the bill, which is expected to get a vote this week, is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who made it a key item in his big February speech pitching the GOP to working families. The speech was meant to kick off the GOP’s new, softer agenda, but if the party is looking for fresh ideas after their defeat in the 2012 election, this isn’t one.
Republicans introduced the same idea in 1996, 1997 and 2003, even making it one of the first 10 bills they moved in the Newt Gingrich-era. The talking points haven’t changed much. “To many working men and women, time with their family is just as valuable as extra money,” current House Speaker Boehner said in March of 1997. “In fact, many would prefer to have time rather than money,” then-Rep. Judy Biggert said in 2003. “Time is more precious to [a working father] than the cash payments,” Rep. Martha Roby told the National Review last month.
But that’s typical Washington, where old ideas get repackaged every year. What labor advocates are more concerned about is that the bill supposedly aimed at helping working families might actually hurt them by undermining the 40-hour work week and “increasing overtime hours for those who don’t want them and cutting pay for those who do,” as Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Eileen Appelbaum wrote. The National Partnership for Women and Families said the “mis-named Working Families Flexibility Act will mean a pay cut for workers without any guaranteed flexibility or time off.”
The bill didn’t pass Congress in previous years for this very reason. When GOP leaders were courting New York Rep. Peter King to vote for the measure in 1997, he asked if they had spoken with labor groups about the measure. “It was as if I had said, Have you met with somebody from Mars?’” King told the Newsday on March 25 of that year. He voted against the bill.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby of the country’s largest corporations, supports the bill.
In Cantor’s “Making Life Work” speech in February, he explained that, “In 1985, Congress passed a law that gave state and municipal employees this flexibility, but today still denies that same privilege to the entire private sector. That’s not right.” But that move was to cut costs for government, not provide workers with more freedom, Judith Lichtman of the National Partnership for Women And Families told the AP. And government employees generally have the protection of both a union and civil service laws.
And as Ezra Klein noted, if the problem is that working parents don’t have enough free time with their kids, then why not give them more by guaranteeing paid vacation days to employees? The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t have a law ensuring all workers get vacations, thanks to fervent opposition from Republicans and corporate interests. “Instead, Cantor is saying that the way to solve the problem of working parents not having enough time with their kids is to give them an incentive to work more overtime,” Klein wrote.
Almost any bill can be touted as a freedom issue, but it’s telling when the people don’t want the freedom they’re supposedly getting.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 6, 2013
It didn’t get much attention last week, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suffered a significant defeat last week. The Virginia Republican, as part of a larger rebranding campaign, crafted something called the “Helping Sick Americans Now Act,” which intended to transfer money from the Affordable Care Act to high-risk pools for the uninsured.
Democrats saw through the scheme, but more importantly, House Republicans hated the idea, seeing it as a plan to “fix” Obamacare. Humiliated, Cantor was forced to pull his bill without a vote.
The overlooked fiasco was a problem House GOP leaders saw coming.
Less than two weeks ago, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy walked upstairs to Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Capitol office to discuss a sensitive issue: Why did Cantor schedule a vote before McCarthy had the chance to survey Republican support?
The meeting — described as “tense” by several people familiar with it — ended with McCarthy abruptly standing up and storming out of the room. Aides downplayed the exchange. But a week later, it turned out that McCarthy’s pique was merited: The health care-related bill was suddenly pulled from the floor in what was the most recent stumble for House Republicans.
If this was a rare misstep, and the Republican-led House ran like a well-oiled governing machine, it’d be easy to overlook. But the trouble with Cantor’s bill appears to be evidence of a much larger and deeper problem.
We talked a month ago about House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) “Make the Senate go first” rule that effectively takes the House out of the governing process altogether, but Jake Sherman’s report makes it seem as if Boehner doesn’t have much of a choice — this is a House “in chaos.” Republican leader are “talking past each other”; the House conference “is split by warring factions”; and influential outside groups are fighting their ostensible allies.
It’s ugly, and it’s getting worse.
There appear to be a series of factions, which clearly don’t see eye to eye. Right-wing lawmakers want to invest their time and energy into combating Democrats and voting on health care repeal; Cantor and his allies are focused on rebranding and conservative-friendly solutions; and Boehner has some big-ticket items in mind as he weighs the future of the so-called “Hastert Rule.”
In the meantime, four months into the new Congress, the House has no policy agenda, and according to the Politico report, GOP leaders even consider immigration reform a “long shot” in the lower chamber.
I’m not entirely convinced that the House is so far gone that governing is literally impossible, especially if the Speaker’s office is willing to forgo the “majority of the majority” and start passing bills with Democratic votes. Boehner has already done this four times this year, and if he’s willing to do it some more, this Congress may not be a complete disaster.
But clearly House Republicans are divided against themselves. There’s no meaningful leadership; no interest in cooperation or compromise; and post-policy nihilism rules the day. The demise of Cantor’s health care bill was a reminder that House Republicans will reject their own party’s policy ideas with nearly the same speed as they’ll reject Democratic ideas.
For many Beltway pundits, the inability of House Republicans to act like a governing caucus is mainly President Obama’s fault — if only he’d schmooze with them, form personal relationships, and act like a character in an Aaron Sorkin movie, maybe these radicalized nihilists would be more likely to get something done.
But all available evidence suggests the collapse of the House GOP is out of Obama’s hands. The House Republican conference is simply broken.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 1, 2013
For a movement that’s helped to reshape the Republican Party—and by extension, reshape American politics—we know shockingly little about the people who make up the Tea Party. While some in the GOP once hoped to co-opt the movement, it’s increasingly unclear which group—the Tea Party or establishment Republicans—is running the show. Politicians have largely relied on conjecture and assumption to determine the positions and priorities of Tea Party activists.
Until now. The results of the first political science survey of Tea Party activists show that the constituency isn’t going away any time soon—and Republicans hoping the activists will begin to moderate their stances should prepare for disappointment. Based out of the College of William and Mary, the report surveyed more than 11,000 members of FreedomWorks, one of the largest and most influential Tea Party groups. The political scientists also relied on a separate survey of registered voters through the YouGov firm to compare those who identified with the Tea Party movement to those Republicans who did not. (Disclosure: The political scientist leading the survey was my father, Ronald Rapoport, with whom I worked in writing this piece.)
For the first time, we can now look at what a huge sample of Tea Party activists believe, as well as examine how those who identify with the Tea Party differ from their establishment GOP counterparts. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the study:
1. Tea Party activists are not Republicans.
Republicans are now reliant on the Tea Party. While the number of Tea Party supporters has declined since 2010, they still make up around half of Republicans, according to NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys. More important, they are the most active supporters when it comes to voting in primaries, volunteering on campaigns, and participating in various other activities political parties are reliant upon. Seventy-three percent of Republicans who attended a political rally or meeting identified with the Tea Party. The activists are vehemently anti-Democratic. Among the FreedomWorks sample, only 3 percent of people voted for Obama or a Democratic House candidate in 2008, and less than 6 percent identify as either independents or Democrats.
Yet the Tea Party activists doing work for the Republicans are surprisingly negative about the party they’re helping. While 70 percent of FreedomWorks activists identify as Republican, another 23 percent reject the Republican label entirely and instead, when asked which political party they identify with, choose “other.” Asked if they considered themselves more Republican or more a Tea Party member, more than three-quarters chose Tea Party.
Given that so many don’t identify with the GOP, it’s perhaps not surprising that the activists also rate the party they vote for so poorly. Given a spectrum of seven choices from “outstanding” to “poor,” only 9 percent of activists rated the Republican Party in the top two categories. Meanwhile, 17 percent put the party in the bottom two. In total, 32 percent rated the party in one of the three positive categories while a whopping 40 percent rated the party in one of the negative ones.
In other words, the activists providing a huge amount of the labor and enthusiasm for Republican candidates are, at best, lukewarm on the party they’re voting for. Few are concerned about what their impact on the future of the GOP will be. Which brings us to:
2. Tea Party activists aren’t nearly as concerned about winning.
Or at least they’re significantly more concerned with ideological purity than with political pragmatism. The survey asked FreedomWorks activists if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “When we feel strongly about political issues, we should not be willing to compromise with our political opponents.” Altogether, more than 80 percent agreed to some extent. Thirty-two percent of respondents “agree strongly” with the statement. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent disagreed even “slightly.” In another series of questions sent out to FreedomWorks activists, the survey asked whether they would prefer a candidate with whom they agree on most important issues but who polls far behind the probable Democratic nominee or a candidate with whom they agree “on some of the most important issues” but who’s likely to win. More than three-fourths of respondents preferred the candidate who was more likely to lose but shared their positions.
In other words, the Tea Party cares more about what nominees believe than whether they can win—and compromising on politics means compromising on principle.
The findings help explain what’s happened in so many GOP primary races. Both nationally and at the state level, moderate GOP officeholders found themselves with primary challengers. The Tea Party has helped propel several upstart candidacies, like Christine O’Donnell’s infamous effort to win Delaware’s Senate seat or more recently, Richard Mourdock’s successful challenge to sitting Senator Dick Lugar. In both of those cases, and several others, the Tea Party candidate has proved too extreme for the general election and lost. But despite the losses, the push toward conservative purity continues. A recent New York Times story showed that even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, seen as the leader with the most clout in the Tea Party movement, has been unable to move the faction’s members in his party into more moderate terrain. In light of these survey results, that makes sense—Tea Party elected officials are simply reflecting their supporters. Meanwhile, those left in the establishment fear the party’s new direction.
3. Attempts to bridge the gap between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party are doomed to fail.
There’s no shortage of moves from Republicans to keep the Tea Party in the fold while shifting things more to the center. After the dismal GOP performance in the 2012 elections, establishment figures began pushing back against the Tea Party. Famous consultant Karl Rove announced a new political action committee designed to challenge extreme GOP candidates with more marketable ones. The national party even put out a report after the 2012 losses that pushed for more pragmatic candidates that could have a broader appeal. As noted, even Eric Cantor is trying.
But the gap between the two groups is huge. In the YouGov survey the study uses, more than two-thirds of Tea Partiers put themselves in the two most conservative categories on economic policy, social policy, and overall policy. Only 23 percent of non-Tea Partiers place themselves in the most conservative categories on all three issues; nearly 40 percent don’t locate themselves in the most conservative categories for any of the three policy areas.
Most jarring: On some issues, like abolishing the Department of Education and environmental regulation, the establishment Republicans are actually closer to Democrats than they are to the Tea Party respondents. That’s a gap too large to be overcome by a few political action committees and gestures of goodwill.
Tea Party activists dominate the Republican Party, and they’re no less willing to compromise with the GOP than they are with Democrats. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe summed it up nicely in his book title: Hostile Takeover.
Simply put, the GOP is too reliant on the Tea Party—and based on these survey results, the Tea Party doesn’t care about the GOP’s fate. It cares about moving the political conversation increasingly rightward.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, April 29, 2013
It looked like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had come up with a fairly clever scheme. Unfortunately for him, it died yesterday when his fellow House Republicans refused to go along.
The gambit was a little complicated, but in a nutshell, Cantor thought he’d come up with a way to severely undermine the Affordable Care Act — the House would pass a bill to strip federal funds from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which helps states set up the exchanges that are needed to make the ACA work. The proposal would then divert that money into existing-but- underfunded high-risk pools for the uninsured — a favorite GOP health care policy — that help people with pre-existing conditions buy subsidized coverage.
For Cantor, the plan checked a lot of boxes. If the exchanges are gutted, implementing “Obamacare” would be nearly impossible. At the same time, voters were supposed to see this and say, “See? House Republicans really are interested in providing solutions to problems people face in the real world.” As a matter of public policy, this was an awful idea, but the whole endeavor was billed as an element in the party’s “rebranding” campaign.
So what happened? Cantor’s plan failed miserably because his own allies balked.
On Wednesday, Republican leaders abruptly shelved one of the centerpieces of Mr. Cantor’s “Making Life Work” agenda — a bill to extend insurance coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions — in the face of a conservative revolt. [...]
Items that Mr. Cantor had hoped would change the Republican Party’s look, if not its priorities, have been ignored, have been greeted with yawns or have only worsened Republican divisions.
Cantor expected Democratic opposition and he received it — House Dems immediately saw through the scheme and the White House issued a veto threat yesterday morning.
But that wasn’t the majority leader’s real problem. Rather, far-right lawmakers, activists, and organizations saw Cantor’s proposal as an effort to “fix” the Affordable Care Act by investing in high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.
For the left, Cantor’s “Helping Sick Americans Now Act” was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For the right, it was just a sheep to be slaughtered.
Republican leaders assumed that if they just explained the legislation to their own members — this was about cutting “Obamacare” off at the knees, not actually improving the law — they’d have enough support to pass the bill. But House Republicans wouldn’t listen, seeing this as a misguided effort to spend public funds in support of a provision within the health care law they’ve been told to despise.
The Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation and tea party groups have urged Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill, which was authored by GOP Reps. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Michael Burgess of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri. Club for Growth said it would include this vote in its annual rating of members of Congress.
Brent Bozell, a tea party leader, dubbed the bill “CantorCare” in a news release Tuesday.
Republican lawmakers privately fretted that the bill would bolster Obamacare, which the GOP has long tried to dismantle.
Cantor, humiliated, was forced to pull the bill from the floor, realizing it would lose if brought up for a vote. His office insisted that the proposal would be brought back after the leadership had more time to educate its caucus, but there’s no indication of when that might happen.
Remember, Cantor and his allies didn’t really expect this to become law; they only hoped to use this as a political scheme that made House Republicans look better. In practice, it had the opposite of the intended effect, and divided the caucus instead of uniting it.
This was, as NBC’s First Read put it, “mundane posturing,” which should have been easy for the far-right lawmakers, but which ended up backfiring.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 25, 2013