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“After Capitol Hill ‘Chaos,’ Democrats Name Names”: House GOP Goes To The Mat To Allow Businesses To Discriminate

In recent years, not much has gotten done in Congress, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities for drama. And yet, yesterday, multiple headlines highlighted the “chaos” that erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives. So, what happened?

It was a chaotic scene on the House floor Thursday morning after an amendment to help protect LGBT people from discrimination failed by just one vote as Republicans succeeded in convincing a few members of their own party to switch their votes to help ensure the measure would not pass.

House Democrats could be heard chanting “shame, shame, shame” on the floor as the measure went from garnering up to 217 votes at one point down to just 212 when the vote was gaveled. Boos erupted from the House floor as the measure failed.

There are a couple of relevant angles to this. The first is the substance: two years ago, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting government contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees and applicants. Congressional Republicans won’t consider the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so the White House did what it could under the law.

Two years later, House Republicans want to undo that policy. When putting together this year’s big defense spending bill, the GOP quietly added a provision to restore contractors’ ability to discriminate. Pushing back, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) sponsored an amendment yesterday to nullify the anti-LGBT provision and protect the White House’s anti-discrimination policy.

It didn’t go well – the Republican majority defeated Maloney’s amendment. In 2016, the House GOP is still willing to go to the mat to allow businesses to discriminate, even when taxpayers’ money is being used.

Which brings us to the second angle: how House Republicans waged this fight.

The House allotted a couple of minutes to vote on Maloney’s measure, and when time was up, the amendment appeared to have passed. Except, in a fairly unusual move, Republican leaders decided to keep the vote open for a while in order to get some GOP members to switch their vote and endorse discrimination rights. What was a two-minute vote turned into an eight-minute vote – the kind of abuse Republicans used to condemn – so GOP leaders could twist arms and get the outcome they wanted.

And thus, “chaos.”

Democratic leaders, outraged by the ugliness and underhanded tactics, decided to name names, releasing the list of the seven House Republicans who agreed to switch their vote, after time had expired, to advance the anti-LGBT policy (in alphabetical order): Reps. Jeff Denham (R- Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Mimi Walters (R- Calif.), and David Young (R-Iowa).

Each of these members initially voted to do the right thing, but each reversed course.

And what of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who ostensibly leads the chamber and opposes keeping votes open like this? The Wisconsin congressman told reporters he agreed with the far-right position and wants to undo the administration’s policy. “This is federalism. The states should do this. The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business,” Ryan said.

Or as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern put it, the Speaker of the House “believes that states should decide whether the federal government should allow federal contractors to use federal tax dollars to engage in anti-LGBTQ discrimination when working on federal projects overseen by federal agencies. And this man is the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.”

Paul Ryan keeps facing leadership tests. He keeps flunking.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 20, 2016

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Discrimination, House Republicans, LGBT | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Obama Moves On Paid Sick Leave”: What Exactly Do Republicans Want To Do For Workers?

It’s Labor Day, but some of us are still working, like yours truly and the president:

President Obama rallied union workers here Monday, announcing a new executive order that will require federal contractors to offer employees up to seven paid sick days a year, a move that the White House said could benefit more than 300,000 workers.

Obama made the announcement during a Labor Day speech as he continues a year-long effort to pressure Congress to approve legislation that would provide similar benefits for millions of private-sector workers. The president highlighted a Massachusetts law, approved by voters in November, that provides employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. That law went into effect in July.

My guess is that Republicans will just ignore this latest action, not because they aren’t opposed to it but because there’s little they have to gain by making a fuss about it. Because it’s limited to federal contractors, most of whom do quite well suckling at government’s teat, they aren’t going to hear a whole lot of complaining from employers about it. And mandating paid sick leave is spectacularly popular: in a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 85 percent of those surveyed said they supported it, including 77 percent of Republicans.

Like other actions Obama has taken on labor rules, this is a limited version of a policy he’d like to see adopted nationally. Obama has advocated a national law mandating that workers get paid sick leave, and there is such a bill in Congress that Democrats have introduced, called the Healthy Families Act. But Republicans have no intention of allowing it to come to a vote. While there’s nothing much Obama can do about that, he is allowed to set rules for federal contractors, a power he has employed before. Because these are executive orders, a future Republican president could undo them, though there’s no guarantee he or she would; on one hand, the GOP is opposed to pretty much any expansion of worker rights, while on the other hand, they might decide rolling these rules back isn’t worth the bad publicity.

There are two basic questions at play here, one more philosophical and one more practical. The first is whether government has any role at all to play in setting the terms of the relationship between employers and employees. While few conservatives would say outright that the answer to that question is no, in practice they oppose almost every regulation of that relationship that exists. For instance, many conservatives don’t just oppose raising the minimum wage; they also say there should be no minimum wage at all, because the free market should set wage levels. If there’s an employer who wants to pay somebody a dollar an hour to do some job, and there’s someone willing to do it for that little, why should government get in their way?

You might think I’m caricaturing conservative views, but there is an entire movement in conservative legal circles seeking to return to a turn-of-the-century conception of government’s ability to regulate the workplace, one that prevailed before we had laws on things such as overtime, workplace safety and child labor (Brian Beutler recently profiled this movement).

The second question is, if we accept that government can set some work rules, what should they be? Even the most liberal advocate wouldn’t argue that any expansion of worker rights is necessarily a good idea; nobody’s suggesting that we set the minimum wage at $100 an hour or force all employers to wash their employees’ cars. But the kind of thing that’s on the table now, like paid sick leave, would only bring us in line with the rest of the industrialized world, where basic worker protections aren’t so controversial. As Democrats always mention, the United States is the only developed country with no legally mandated paid sick leave.

And just like on the minimum wage, where there’s little or no action at the federal level, states and cities are stepping in. As of now there are four states that mandate some form of paid sick leave — California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut — in addition to a number of big and small cities, including New York, Philadelphia, the District of Columbia and Seattle. As long as there’s no federal sick leave law, activists and liberal legislators will keep pushing for it in more and more places, and given its popularity, they’ll probably succeed more often than they’ll fail.

Most everything on the Democratic agenda for workplaces — a higher minimum wage, expanded overtime, paid sick leave — is extremely popular, which is one of the reasons Republicans would rather focus on something else. And they’re smart enough to know that if they don’t come out in thunderous opposition, the proposals will get a lot less media attention, which means they’re less likely to play a significant role in voters’ decision-making. But when the question “What exactly do you want to do for workers?” gets asked in the presidential campaign, as it surely will, at least the Democrats have an answer.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, September 7, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Labor Day, Paid Sick Leave, Workers | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama’s Executive Order Rights A Wrong”: One Of The Most Important Positive Steps For Civil Rights In Last 20 Years

Little noticed in coverage of President Barack Obama’s signing of the Fair Play and Safe Workplaces executive order July 31 was a provision that has been called “one of the most important positive steps for civil rights in the last 20 years.”

The statement comes from Paul Bland of the public interest group Public Justice, quoted by Emily Bazelon of Slate. He’s right; what he’s referring to is a provision of the order that bars employers from forcing workers to bring workplace discrimination, sexual assault or sexual harassment cases only through arbitration. As Bazelon reports, the order applies to firms with federal contracts valued at more than $1 million. But that’s plenty.

The arbitration provision got little public attention after the signing, in part because business lobbyists were so busy carrying on about other aspects of the executive order.

As my colleague Christi Parsons reported, businesses are exercised about a rule requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations dating back three years and government agencies to take those violations into account when handing out federal contracts. The idea is to goad employers into settling the violations before they apply for contracts.

Business mouthpieces complain that the provision will create a “blacklist” barring companies with even minor violations from hopping on the government gravy train. Repeat after me: “Tough.”

The arbitration provision, however, addresses what may be an even more important abuse. As a private venue for dispute resolution, arbitration may be an effective way to keep commercial disagreement from clogging court dockets. That’s true chiefly when all the parties come to arbitration with roughly equivalent resources.

When it’s used by employers against employees, or by corporations against aggrieved customers, and when it’s forced down complainants’ throats against their wishes, however, it’s a scourge.

Arbitration provisions have proliferated everywhere, and it’s a safe bet that many, if not most, people forced into arbitration didn’t even know they were subject to the requirement until after their dispute arose – arbitration clauses are buried in the boilerplate you sign when you enroll with a cable company, go to a doctor or hospital, or take a new job. Arbitration typically favors the bigger party — they know their way around the process better, and they can take better advantage of what are often very loose standards of evidence and testimony in arbitration.

The Obama order strikes at the heart of this injustice by allowing complaints about workplace discrimination or abuse to be arbitrated only with the consent of the parties after the disputes arise. Surprise arbitration clauses, in other words, are out.

It’s hard not to see the order as a reproach to the Supreme Court and other courts. Judges are big fans of arbitration, in part because it keeps tedious commercial disputes out of their hair. The key case upholding arbitration clauses involved AT&T and a customer dispute over the real cost of “free” cellphones sold by the mobile carrier.

A California federal judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected AT&T’s demand to compel arbitration. But the Supreme Court sided with the company in a 5-4 ruling (naturally).

This was a reflection of what legal scholar David Cole recently called the court’s “unremittingly conservative” narrowing of access to the judiciary to remedy legal wrongs. The Earl Warren Court, he observed in the New York Review of Books, “viewed the courts’ highest calling in a constitutional democracy as safeguarding those who cannot protect themselves through the political process.”

The Roberts Court has put its thumb on the other side of the scale.

The Obama order shifts the balance just a little bit back the other way.

 

By: Michael Hiltzik, Columnist for The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, August 14, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Executive Orders | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Steve King, Confused And Wrong Again”: A Wage Hike Isn’t A ‘Constitutional Violation’

The White House probably didn’t expect congressional Republicans to celebrate President Obama’s new policy raising the minimum wage for employees of government contractors. But this isn’t one of the options available to GOP lawmakers.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in an interview Tuesday blasted President Obama’s move to require new federal contractors to pay their employees above $10.10 a “constitutional violation.”

“We have a minimum wage. Congress has set it. For the president to simply declare I’m going to change this law that Congress has passed is unconstitutional,” King said.

The Iowa congressman suggested that there would be a legal challenge to the move, and said that the nation never “had a president with that level of audacity and that level of contempt for his own oath of office.”

On the substance, the congressman seems confused. Obama isn’t declaring a change to federal law – the federal minimum wage won’t be, and can’t be, changed through executive order.

What Obama has done – and what Steve King should have looked into before talking to reporters – is use his regulatory authority to establish conditions for businesses that contract with the government. According to the administration, Congress already gave the president this authority when lawmakers wrote current law.

Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who complained about the policy on economic grounds, didn’t question the legality of Obama’s move.

But King’s wrong on the politics, too.

A minimum-wage increase is wildly popular and enjoys broad support from across the political spectrum, and yet it can’t pass in Congress because of unyielding Republican opposition. The president can’t change the law, but he can help give some Americans a raise.

The more GOP officials throw a tantrum, the better it is for Obama – he’ll be the one fighting for higher wages, while Republicans position themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. It’s not exactly a winning talking point: “We’re outraged the president is doing something popular without giving us a chance to kill it.”

Indeed, King added this morning, “I think we should bring a resolution to the floor and say so, and restrain this president from his extra-constitutional behavior.”

If Obama has engaged in extra-constitutional behavior, Steve King hasn’t identified it, but if House Republicans want to start some kind of political war over a minimum-wage increase in an election year, I have a strong hunch Democrats would be delighted.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 28, 2014

January 29, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Steve King | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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