The Empowerment Of Puzder Means the Empowerment of Senate Republicans

Like EPA administrator pick Scott Pruitt’s relationship with Senate Environment & Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, Donald Trump has chosen for his Labor Secretary another man who hails from the same state as the Senator tasked with overseeing the agency he will helm.

Andy Puzder, who was officially announced as the proposed nominee for Secretary of the Department of Labor last week, will work closely with his fellow Tennessean Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. In a statement released by Alexander on December 8th, the Senator called Puzder a “respected Tennessee business leader,” a phrase he repeated after meeting with the proposed Labor nominee on Monday.

Alexander’s December 8th statement also notes that CKE Restaurants, the company Puzder is the Chief Executive of, is moving its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee. Tennessee is one of nine states that do not have a federal income tax.

Opposition to federal income tax, and many types of government regulation, is a hallmark of Puzder’s more than business-friendly philosophy. Near the beginning of the 2015 session, he testified in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at a hearing examining a bill called the Forty Hours is Full Time Act. That bill was reported to the Senate Finance committee, but no report was issued or additional act taken.

Puzder’s testimony came shortly after the grace period for the employer mandate on companies with over 100 employees had expired, and a year before it would come into effect for those with 50-99 employees. The bill would have redefined “full-time” work under the Affordable Care Act as 40 hours or more, where the ACA had defined “full-time” as only thirty hours or more.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) encapsulated the criticisms of most of the Democrats by calling that redefinition an example of big corporations asking for corporate welfare and by citing Congressional Budget Office figures which asserted the change in eligibility would cause at least 500,000 and up to 1 million people to lose their coverage, as well as shifting health-care funding from business to government to the tune of $53 million.

Puzder disputed that criticism, repeating multiple times “it’s not about corporate welfare” and asking of the CBO “[when] have they ever estimated anything that’s accurate?”

I’m telling you what’s happening in the world, in the business world,” he said. In response to a question from Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), who in calling for a universal system asked the assembled witnesses whether they prefer as businesses not to have to be involved in health care at all, Puzder told the hearing “you’re not helping. I know you think you are, I know you want to, I know the intent was there.”

Puzder’s relationship with the Republican controlled Senate committee will serve him well as he advances his anti-regulation agenda. And while Senator Sanders may use his enhanced national role to highlight some of the policy moving through the committee the bare majority will ultimately carry the day, with the Republican membership ideologically congruent with the National Platform on Labor. That will mean a committee committed to minimum wage as a state or local decision, a push of unions out of exclusivity on government projects (something the platform describes as “a form of peonage to the NLRB) and the advancement of so-called “Right-to-Work” laws.

The Platform asserts too that “both the Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board have scrapped decades of labor law to implement the agenda of big labor.” Through close collaboration between HELP and a Labor Department helmed by corporate free-marketeers like Andy Puzder, the agenda of the Republican National Platform will be implemented aggressively in an effort to scrap the past eight years of Obama administration policy.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

New EPA Administrator Has Close Ties to Senate Environment Leadership

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, is a familiar face around the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. He testified in a subcommittee hearing as recently as last year examining the legal impact of the Clean Power Plan, regulation issued by the EPA requiring states to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 30% by 2030.

Mr. Pruitt, who prior to his new EPA role was Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, has been involved in efforts to combat both the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which he argues overreaches the agency’s Clean Air Act enforcement authority, and the Waters of the U.S. rule, which he characterized as an attack on private property rights.

In his May 5th, 2015 testimony, Mr. Pruitt laid out his line of thinking, claiming that “the EPA does not possess the authority under the Clean Air Act to do what it is seeking to accomplish in the so-called Clean Power Plan.”

In glowing testimonials triumphantly issued by the Transition’s Public Relations department he was praised by a variety of figures for these actions.

Included was a statement from the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, and fellow Oklahoman, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) who called Mr Pruitt “a leader and a partner on environmental issues for many years,” as well as commen him for fighting “back against unconstitutional and overzealous environmental regulations like Waters of the U.S. and the Clean Power Plan.”  The two also coauthored an opinion piece published in the Tulsa World in 2015 outlining their joint efforts to oppose the Clean Power Plan at the state and federal levels.

In a February 2015 Joint Hearing with the House Transportation Committee examining the Waters of the USA Act, Mr. Inhofe called Pruitt a “best friend” while introducing him. Pruitt then testified that the implementation of the act would “strike a blow to private property rights” and called the rule a “naked power grab by the EPA.”

Pruitt repeats often that Washington views states as “vessels of federal will,” a stance he’s firmly against. Part of the thrust of his argument against the EPA using its authority to regulate water and air quality is his interpretation of EPA legislation giving states the power to create their own plans for oversight. However, the EPA is empowered to step in and regulate if states present plans the agency finds insufficient, and to enforce in the absence of state-level efforts to do so.

The agency under Pruitt will likely step back from these powers and adopt a policy of non-intervention, leaving states free to adopt diluted plans, especially concerning CO2 emissions; it’s not likely the EPA will take a robust enforcement role. Coupled with Senator Inhofe keeping his chairmanship of the committee, and continued Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Trump Administration’s environmental policy will hew closely to the efforts put forward by Senate Republicans during the Obama years, but now with the explicit endorsement of the agency that had previously been their greatest enemy.

by Marlon J. Ettinger