Friday, February 5, 2010

Grist from the sausage mill (Congress laboring on labor)

It’s been an interesting week, labor-wise, in Congress and the big events offered reason for both optimism and despair regarding the ability of the legislative branch to proceed on legislative matters designed to address issues facing the nation’s labor force.

Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), on Wednesday, February 3rd, offered details about legislation that would exempt any employer that hires a worker, who has been without full-time work for at least 60 days, from paying the employer’s share of 2010 Social Security taxes on that worker. According to its sponsors, the advantage of the Hire Now Tax Cut Act of 2010 (S. 2983) is that it rewards businesses immediately for the “good” behavior of hiring out-of-work workers, rather than offering them a 2011 tax cut for decisions made in 2010. Furthermore, the longer the employer employs, and the more it pays the worker, the benefits would increase, up to the maximum Social Security wage of $106,800. In order to be eligible, the employee’s pay in the second 26-week period must be at least 80 percent of the pay in the first 26-week period.

From this perspective, the simple nature of the bill, along with the bi-partisan nature of its support, make it a superb candidate for passage. President Obama has said that 2010 will be all about the jobs and a bill that rewards employers for hiring workers should be supported.

However, another labor-related issue may be more emblematic of the politics that currently choke progress in our nation’s capital. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has filed cloture on the nomination of Craig Becker to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board, but this time the impediment to Becker’s ascension may have nothing to do with his stances on labor issues. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has put a hold on all of Obama’s pending nominations, including Becker’s. Therefore, under Senate rules, at least 60 Senators must vote to end debate on the nomination. Needless to say, with Scott Brown’s victory in the recent Massachusetts special election, the odds of the Senate achieving that mark have considerably lengthened.

Shelby has placed the hold in an effort to ensure the award of an air-tanker contract to French manufacturer Airbus over American manufacturer Boeing. Airbus would build the tankers in Alabama, which apparently is how Shelby justifies shutting down the confirmation process for 70 of the President’s nominees. This is precisely the kind of “inside baseball” that has slowed all progress on essential legislation to a standstill. The view here is that Shelby’s Republican colleagues should put pressure on the good Senator to end his obstruction.

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