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

GMO Legislation Passes Despite Day of Opposition

A Genetically Modified Organism(GMO) labeling amendment passed tonight by a 63-30 vote. The measure is viewed as a serious compromise, and faced sustained opposition on the floor today.

In response to states like Vermont beginning to label food made with GMO ingredients, the Senate proposed federal guidelines.

Critics like Jeff Merkley, D-OR, though, who championed an alternate version of the law that did come up for a vote, are calling the act the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act.

Rather than requiring a label with a symbol or text identifying a product as containing GMO ingredients, the passed measure opts for a Quick Response(QR) code on packaging instead. These codes can be read by a smartphone or a reader installed in a store.

The assistant minority leader Dick Durbin, D-IL, speaking in opposition to this method, called it the “’secret decoder ring’ approach.”

“I really believe that it’s an attempt to obfuscate the subject,” Mr. Durbin went on, calling it impractical to expect people to scan every item while shopping to find out what is in them.

Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, had harsh words for the bill, arguing that it is not a viable alternative to the information provided by labeling that the measure in in his state mandates.

“This is not an effort to provide information,” he said, “this is an effort to deny information to customers.”

He further criticized it for lacking in enforcement mechanisms.

“This bill provides no federal penalties for violating [it]” Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Merkley’s attempt to provide discussion and a vote on amendments by Senators Leahy, D-VT, Sasse, R-NE, Paul, R-KY, and Murkowski, R-K, including one of his own were blocked, forcing a late night vote that passed the bill.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

PROMESA Advances to the Executive

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act(PROMESA) made it out of the Senate again today, jumping two hurdles with ease and landing on the President’s desk. The bill passes only two days before Puerto Rico is due to make a debt payment of $2 billion, an obligation it does not have the money to fulfill.

Supporters of the bill began the process by invoking cloture on it in the early afternoon. The cloture motion passed comfortably by 68-32.

After an hour long recess the final debates on the bill began with five hours provided divided between both sides. Harry Reid, D-NV, designated 40 minutes each to Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Robert Menendez, D-NJ, of his party’s time. Reminding the speakers that they were not obligated to use all of their time, he said “the sooner we get to the votes, the better off we will be.”

“This is a terrible piece of legislation,” Mr. Sanders began, “setting horrific precedence, and it must not pass.”

“This legislation strips away the most important powers of the democratically elected officials of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Sanders continued.

“The US must not become a colonial master,” he asserted vehemently, “which is precisely what this legislation allows.”

Mr. Sanders warned of a mass migration of professionals away from the island, and called a 58% childhood poverty rate disgraceful.

“You cannot get blood from a stone,” he exhorted hedge funds who are seeking to profit from Puerto Rico’s debt.

Addressing the presiding officer Ted Cruz, who also ran for president this year, Mr. Sanders said that “Puerto Rico must be given the time it needs to grow its economy” and added that there should be austerity for hedge funds, not the people of Puerto Rico.

“I am very disappointed that this…piece of legislation is being pushed through the Senate” said Sanders.

He finished his speech by setting up a procedural challenge to the bill, claiming it violated the Budget Act.

Orrin Hatch, R-UH, jumped to challenge the charge, and set up a vote to waive the provisions of the Budget Act with regard to PROMESA.

Mr. Hatch then attacked what he called “unsatisfactory” financial disclosures by Puerto Rico. He asserted that Puerto Rico has $40 billion in unfunded pension promises, and accused the administration of collaborating with the government of Puerto Rico “in an obvious attempt to favor public pensions.”

Bob Menendez, D-NJ, called the rush to act on legislation unwise, saying that worries about litigation in the event of a Puerto Rican default are addressed in the bill by a retroactive stay on any action taken in court.

“We still have one last opportunity to do right by the people of Puerto Rico.”

Mr. Menendez launched another attempt, as he did on the floor of the Senate for four hours yesterday, to show how completely the financial oversight board that will govern much of the island’s spending decisions, in his words a “control board,” strips the island territory of its sovereignty.

“I believe we’re opening the flood gates,” he maintained, “to turning Puerto Rico into a laboratory for right wing ideology.”

He also called the legislation an assertion of neocolonial control.

A motion put forward by Mr. Menendez to table the PROMESA notion failed by a vote of 44-54.

The procedural challenge issued by Mr. Sanders was also defeated, and the Budget Act provisions were waived in regard to the legislation by an 85-13 vote.

Then finally, the Senate made its final push and passed the bill with 68 yeas and 30 Nays, completing its circuitous passage in and out of the Senate for what is probably the last time, provided the President does not veto it.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Parliamentarian Earns Her Pay

A comical scene played out this evening in the waning hours of the Senate session that left members scratching their heads over the contents of a bill that was moved by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY.

Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, kicked off the confusion by objecting when the Majority Leader moved the bill.

Seeking a point of parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Sanders asked whether or not it was true that there was an amendment in the bill titled “The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015.”

Mr. Sanders was forceful in his demand for an answer, and the presiding officer was at a loss for words while the Senate staff found what, in fact, the bill said.

“Yes, no, maybe?” asked Mr. Sanders impatiently.

“The language in question is in the House legislation,” came the eventual answer from the chair.

Mr. Sanders then asked that such language be removed by unanimous consent.

Amid uncertainty about whether or not such an action could be taken, the senior Senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy(D), asked a few times whether or not the legislation would defund Planned Parenthood. Crosstalk reigned casually before Mr. Leahy could get an answer. The presiding officer informed him that such a question was not for the parliamentarian to answer.

Mr. McConnell then took an opening to ask in genuine bewilderment who held the floor. When he was told that it was himself, Mr. McConnell sought to clarify that he was amending the legislation with the Roberts Amendment that would replace in full the Planned Parenthood act.

Barbara Boxer, D-CA, asked whether or not the Senate could strike the language by unanimous consent, and learned from the parliamentarian talking through the presiding officer that that was not the case and that they can only amend.

At this point Mr. McConnell, looking lost, asked if the clerk would read the title of the bill, drawing a wry smile from the presiding officer.

The chamber erupted in laughter when John J. Merlino, the legislative clerk, recited the name of the bill the Senate had been working on all day, the National Sea Grants College Program Amendments Act of 2015.

Charles Schumer, D-NY asked one last time to ensure that the legislative action that Mr. McConnell was about to take would exclude entirely the words “Planned Parenthood” from the bill.

The presiding officer reported that it would, then moved on without taking anymore questions.

by Marlon J. Ettinger