All the President’s Regulators

Dec. 8, 2009

The American Spectator

During the first year of the Obama administration, conservatives have directed much of their fire on the major legislation the president is pushing through Congress. This concern is justifiable, as Democrats are moving bills aimed at taking over the nation’s health care system, creating a national energy tax to limit carbon emissions, and enabling unions to rapidly add members by denying workers a secret ballot on unionization.

But as critical as it is for the right to expose the damaging consequences of such major legislation, conservatives must not lose sight of the fact that there is more than one way for the president to impose his vision on the country. Each day, throughout the executive branch, presidentially appointed bureaucrats who remain unknown to most Americans make decisions that have consequences for the entire nation. And in President Obama’s case, his appointments serve as a plan B, allowing him to realize the parts of his agenda that he is unable to enact through the legislative process. In some instances, Obama’s more radical appointees have withdrawn or resigned once their extreme views have come to light. One prominent example is Van Jones, who was forced to resign as the White House “green jobs czar” after the revelations that he once described himself as a communist and that he signed a petition of a group that raised questions about whether the Sept. 11 attacks were an inside job. Yet many other troubling Obama appointees have escaped major scrutiny. Some have had their nominations stalled in the Senate, while others are already hard at work implementing liberal policies.

“This administration is moving very quickly on the appointment side of things to put people in place that, because of the regulation state that has built up over the past 40 years, will have within their realm the power to affect every area of this country without our elected representatives having so much of a say in it,” Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government, told TAS. Wilson, whose group has been closely tracking Obama’s appointments, specifically highlighted labor and environmental policy as among the most worrisome areas.

Obama gave the first indication that he planned on handsomely rewarding unions for the role they played in getting him elected when he named California Rep. Hilda Solis to be secretary of labor. Solis was first elected to Congress in 2000 as a union candidate, and as a member of the House of Representatives from 2001 until her appointment this year, she racked up perfect or near perfect vote ratings from every major union. She also served as treasurer of American Rights at Work, a pro-labor group that maintained the “Shame on Elaine” attack website aimed at her predecessor, Elaine Chao. And shortly after being confirmed, she went to work reversing many of Chao’s policies to the benefit of her union allies.

While liberals look at the agency as an entity that only regulates businesses, under the leadership of Secretary Chao from 2001 through January 2009, the Labor Department also took its responsibility of regulating unions seriously. Chao beefed up the Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS), which polices unions, and during this time, the division’s actions led to 929 convictions of corrupt union officials and to the recovery of more than $93 million on behalf of union members. Yet shortly after Solis was sworn in as the new secretary of labor, the Obama administration announced its intention to slash the OLMS budget by more than 9 percent, while at the same time boosting the budgets of the divisions tasked with regulating businesses. As a result, corrupt union bosses will have a much freer hand with which to bilk their members.

BUT THIS IS JUST a small part of Obama’s efforts to use the Department of Labor to pay back unions. He also tapped two women with close ties to unions — Patricia Smith and Lorelei Boylan — for other top positions within the department. While working for the New York State Department of Labor, Smith and Boylan spearheaded a controversial program in which the state partners with unions and other liberal community groups to police workplaces.

“Just as no one wants to live in an area riddled with crime, nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where workers are paid sweatshop wages,” Smith said when announcing the program in January 2009. “New York Wage Watch will increase labor law compliance by giving regular people a formal role in creating lawful workplaces statewide, and thereby improving the quality of life in their communities. It will also help law-abiding employers, who struggle to compete with businesses that undercut them by violating the law.”

But in practice empowering “regular people” actually means that the government is deputizing unions to help police workplaces.

“New York Wage Watch is labor law enforcement at the purest, most grassroots level,” boasted Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in the press release announcing the program.

Boylan, who runs the initiative, was nominated by Obama to head the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division, but her nomination was withdrawn in October. Smith, who actually devised the Wage Watch program in New York, was appointed by Obama to be solicitor of labor. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) placed her nomination on hold, meaning that Democrats will need 60 votes to move it forward. Her status was still in limbo as of this writing.

Even more worrisome for the American business community is President Obama’s attempt to pack the National Labor Relations Board with union lawyers who would make rulings that would achieve many of the same results as labor-friendly legislation. The most obvious example of such legislation is the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The bill’s two major provisions would deny workers a secret ballot in voting on whether to unionize, and force employers into binding arbitration proceedings when negotiating contracts with unions. To this date, Republicans have succeeded in preventing EFCA from becoming law, but the bill’s legislative fate may not even matter if Obama gets several controversial nominees to the labor panel confirmed.

Currently, there are only two members on the five-member NRLB — one is a Republican and the other a Democrat. To tilt the balance of the board, Obama tapped two union lawyers (Craig Becker and Mark Pearce). He also appointed a Republican Senate staffer, Brian E. Hayes, in hopes it would dissuade Republican senators from blocking the other two.

Becker, a longtime labor activist, is the associate general counsel of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The left-wing magazine In These Times wrote that he “helped lay the intellectual foundation for the Employee Free Choice Act.” More relevantly, he wrote a law review article arguing that the major aims of EFCA could be achieved through rulings by the regulatory body to which Obama has appointed him.

“This is somebody who has announced ahead of time that he thinks he can do much of the left’s agenda through the regulatory process,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said in an interview with TAS. “It’s one thing for him to say he intends to do something, but when you look at it, where are the guardrails? Who says he can’t? Who slaps him down?”

Norquist said that if Becker were confirmed, all that would need to happen would be for somebody to file a complaint arguing that the unionization process at a particular business was unfair, and the union-friendly board could decide in the person’s favor and set rules for unionization and collective bargaining along the lines of what is prescribed by EFCA.

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