Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Republicans Launch Preemptive Strike Against Sick Leave Bill

I told you last week about the new bill being proposed by Senate Democrats that would provide up to seven days of sick leave per year to the millions of Americans who cannot currently call in sick if they or a child become ill. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the The Healthy Families Act (S.910), legislation that forces employers in companies with more than 15 employees to provide paid time off for those working an average of at least 20 hours per week or 1,000 hours per year.

I also noted that Republicans appeared poised to come after the bill at least as strongly as they fought the Federal minimum wage increase -- that has finally passed both houses of Congress, with Democrats in control -- and quoted Mike Enzi (R-WY) calling the sick-pay measure an "unfunded mandate on small businesses throughout the country" that the GOP would be determined to defeat.

Sure enough, it didn’t take long for Enzi and his Republican colleagues to launch a preemptive strike against the bill that would give the simple ability to call in sick to 76 percent of the lowest-income workers, who currently cannot care for themselves or a sick child without losing income.

Democrats say having not one day of sick pay isn’t right; Republicans say tough luck.

And flying under the radar of defeated GOP amendments to the 2008 budget last week, was Enzi's sneaky little S. Amdt. 497, a bill that would "establish a 60-vote point of order for legislation that creates unfunded mandates on small business concerns."

As legislation goes, it's pretty straightforward, saying that "It shall not be in order in the Senate to consider any bill, joint resolution, motion, amendment, or conference report that would increase the direct costs of private sector mandates on small business concerns."

The punch line of Enzi's measure said that, if passed, any Senate votes for much of anything that would increase costs to businesses -- no matter how humanitarian in nature for the employees of those businesses -- would need more than a simple, 51-vote majority. It stipulates that such a bill could only pass "by an affirmative vote of three-fifths of the Members, duly chosen and sworn. An affirmative vote of three-fifths of the Members of the Senate, duly chosen and sworn, shall be required to sustain an appeal of the ruling of the Chair on a point of order raised under subsection."

That's all just a fancy way of saying that legislation to help workers, which can currently be passed by a unified Democratic majority, with help from a couple of Republicans, would then need 60 votes to make it through.

Not to worry, the measure was killed last week by a 47-49 vote. But what the hell do you know? It was proposed just in time to effectively kill the The Healthy Families Act if it had passed.

"Every time Washington pushes an unfunded mandate onto the backs of small businesses, operating costs increase and hinder the economy’s ability to grow, create jobs and compete in the global economy," said Enzi last week. "My bill would stop this burden on the private sector."

Added Enzi: "I think the Senate should have a new 60-vote point of order that applies to legislation that creates unfunded private sector mandates. It is time for Congress to remember that our actions here in Washington have very real monetary consequences on the small business owner in Buffalo, Wyoming, or Conway, New Hampshire."

The thing that is sad, funny and stupid all at once is that Enzi is the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. That committee has among the items in its official jurisdiction, to review measures relating to education, labor, health, and public welfare, as well as child labor, labor standards and wages and hours of labor.

There's not a thing in the HELP committee's charter about Enzi's responsibility to protect business against the interests of working Americans -- and to think, this guy used to be the Chairman of that committee before Democrats took over the Senate.

None of those HELP responsibilities stopped Enzi from reading into the record a letter from Dan Danner, Executive Vice President at the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobbying group, that spelled out just how horrifying Enzi's life could become working with Kennedy, the new chairman of the committee that's supposed to look out for American workers.

"Congress has either considered or likely will consider mandates that will add to this burden," writes Danner. "Among the proposals under consideration include legislation to increase the minimum wage, require small employers to provide paid sick leave, offer family and medical leave, and provide wage insurance."

Oh, the humanity.

I'm still investigating reports that ascendants of the Enzi and Danner families fought hard against the onerous business impacts on 19th-century coal mines when Congress proposed the dreadful bill limiting small children to only 12 hours a day underground.

The Wyoming Senator's amendment came up -- and went down -- so fast and was so transparent that Kennedy didn’t even bother trying to shoot holes in it, but left that to Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), who pointed out that the intent of Enzi's bill was simply to remove any possibility of pro-worker bills passing the Senate ever again.

"If legislation such as this were adopted… It could create a 60-vote point of order against the 2007 Defense authorization bill," said Conrad "It could create a 60-vote point of order, a supermajority hurdle, against minimum wage legislation, bankruptcy reform, pension reform, and a host of other bills."

Not to mention that even proposing it, makes Mr. Enzi a cruel and very small man.