Union Official Discloses Strategy to Bypass Congress to Impose “Card Check”

Yesterday, I wrote about the battle over the nomination of union lawyer Craig Becker to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. For years, the labor movement has been pushing for a new “card check” law that would deny workers a secret ballot on unionization, and thus enable labor to rapidly add members through intimidation. While the Orwellian named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has been stalled in the Senate, President Obama appointed Becker to be the tie-breaking vote on the NLRB. This is particularly significant because Becker has previously argued that the Board could institute EFCA on its own, in the absence of legislative action.

In testimony earlier this week, Becker tried to distance himself from his past writings. “The law is clear that the decision…(of) an alternative route to certification rests with Congress and not the board,” Becker said, according to Dow Jones Newswires, claiming that his writings were “intended to be provocative and to ask fundamental questions in order for scholars and others to re-evaluate.”

But writing in the Huffington Post yesterday, Stewart Acuff, chief of staff for the Utility Workers Union of America, lets the cat out of the bag:

[If] we aren’t able to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, we will work with President Obama and Vice President Biden and their appointees to the National Labor Relations Board to change the rules governing forming a union through administrative action to once again allow workers in America access to one of the most basic freedoms in a democracy–the freedom of speech and assembly and association so that workers can build the collective power to challenge the Financial Elite and Get America Back to Work.

Becker is considered one of the intellectual fathers of EFCA, has already gone on the record endorsing a regulatory approach to enacting it, and is himself a part of the labor movement having been counsel to the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO. There’s every reason to believe that were he confirmed, he would do the bidding of unions and work actively to bypass Congress and implement EFCA “through administrative action.”

Fortunately, with the seating of Scott Brown, Becker’s nomination is now in doubt.

Brown to Be Seated Tomorrow

The Hill reports:

Sen.-elect Scott Brown, the successor to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), will be sworn in to office Thursday afternoon, giving Republicans 41 seats in the upper chamber.

“Once we get his certificate we expect to swear him in tomorrow afternoon as early as five o’clock, which is earlier than he suggested,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in an interview Wednesday.

Will Reid Advance Stealth “Card Check” Strategy Before Brown Gets Seated?

The top priority for the labor movement during the Obama administration has been to enact “card check” legislation, which would deny workers a secret ballot on unionization, and thus enable labor to rapidly add members through intimidation. While the most obvious way to make this law would be through the legislative process, the Orwellian named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has been stalled in the Senate. However, Democrats can also enact “card check” through the regulatory process, which is one reason why President Obama appointed union lawyer Craig Becker to be the tie-breaking vote on the National Labor Relations Board.

The Becker nomination has been held up by Republicans thus far, but he testified yesterday before the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Comittee, which is expected to approve his nomination tomorrow. At that point, Becker will need to be approved by sixty votes in the Senate. Sen. Harry Reid’s office has said that the Majority Leader is “committed to doing what is necessary to bring the nomination to the floor as soon as possible and get his nomination confirmed.”

The catch is that, right now, even though Scott Brown’s election has been certified by the Massachusetts Secretary of State and is merely awaiting Gov. Deval Patrick’s signature tomorrow morning, Brown isn’t scheduled to be sworn-in until next Thursday, potentially giving Reid a week to ram through the Becker nomination. The Boston Globe reports that Brown’s office is now seeking to be seated immediately, which would allow him to be in place to help block it.

In a recent magazine piece, I explained why Becker’s nomination was so worrisome:

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.

UPDATE: The Hill is now reporting that Brown will in fact be seated tomorrow.

Letting Gays Openly Serve

John Guardiano, in column on the main site and a subsequent blog post, laments the lack of a genuine debate over the prospect of allowing gays to openly serve in the military. Part of the difficulty of debating the issue is that that for those opposed to allowing homosexuals to serve openly, it’s self-evident why this would cause problems for the military, while for those who support open service (as I do), it’s a no-brainer that sexual orientation shouldn’t make a difference.

I think a lot of this comes down to a person’s general perception of homosexuality. John rightly points out that Americans have become more tolerant of homosexuality over the years, and suggests:

This is attributable in no small measure to a concerted propaganda campaign waged by Hollywood, television, and the media to depict lesbians and homosexuals in the most favorable light possible. Consequently, it is all but impossible to find a gay character, on TV or in a movie, who is bad or despicable — or who suffers from vices and compulsions that might be more common within the gay community.

I disagree with this characterization, because I don’t need to rely on Hollywood propaganda. I happen to be a heterosexual living in a neighborhood with a large gay population, and don’t feel at all threatened by it. I see gay couples when I buy groceries, eat at nearby restaurants, or enter the elevator to my apartment building. I don’t view them as heroes — I just don’t see it as a big deal one way or the other. So, quite honestly, I have to strain to try and understand why people are so concerned about gays serving in the military.

John makes another argument — that allowing gays to serve openly would require soldiers to affirm homosexuality, which would then be a violation of their religious freedom. Part of the reason I disagree with this assessment is that I have a very narrow reading of the First Amendment. I think the founders were mainly concerned with preventing the establishment of a national religion, like say the Church of America, that all citizens would be forced to belong to. This is why, for instance, I support the right of local schools to allow voluntary prayer. But the other problem with the argument is that it accepts as absolute fact J.E. Dyer’s dire predictions about what would happen if gays were allowed to openly serve. Dyer foresees a military in which soldiers will be forced to express approval for “Gay Pride” celebrations and denied promotions if they don’t openly affirm homosexuality. But those are hypothetical scenarios and thus only serve to reinforce the views of those already opposed to lifting the ban, rather than convince those of us who don’t have a problem with allowing open service.

Meanwhile, Bill Kristol, like others supporting the continuation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” argues that allowing gays to serve openly would hurt “unit morale and cohesion” — but he takes it for granted that everybody will understand what he means, and doesn’t bother explaining to the rest of us specifically why he thinks it would harm morale.

To me, it’s hard to see what the fuss is about. This isn’t about lowering the standards of the military, because everybody would still have to meet all of the physical and other requirements necessary for military service. And it isn’t as if the military will, for the first time, be admitting gays. Homosexuals are already serving in the military. Straight soldiers already have to assume that anybody in their unit could be gay, and likely already have an idea of who is and isn’t. So the only change we’re talking about is whether we should continue to force soldiers who are serving our nation honorably to live a lie and face ejection from the military simply on the basis of whether they’re attracted to boys or girls, or to allow them to be open about their orientation. Like I said, it seems like a no-brainer to me. 

UPDATE: Dyer responds in comments (you have to scroll down). I encourage you to read her entire response, but the gist of her argument is that within the civilian context, we’ve already seen an effort to force affirmation of homosexuality, so we should expect the same sort of thing would occur in the military. Yet just because gays want to be able to openly serve in the military, it doesn’t mean that they’ll want to make a public show of it and start holding gay pride marches on military bases. I surely wouldn’t support the scenario Dyer suggests in which “eligibility for promotion or command will be contingent on explicit support for homosexuality,” but I just don’t think there’s a high likelihood of that happening. However, if something like that did happen, any soldiers who were discriminated against because of a refusal to endorse homosexuality would be in a position to challenge the policy. Dyer notes the case of San Deigo firefighters were forced to participate in a gay pride parade. But those firefighters happened to have sued and won.

Time Is An Enemy

The ever optimistic liberal health care journalist Jonathan Cohn explains how a limited breather from working on the issue could potentially help Democrats pass the legislation:

Use the coming days, or maybe weeks, to improve the Democrats’ political standing by focusing on jobs and banking regulation; allow congressional members time to digest the political shock of Massachusetts and figure out that their best political interest lies in passing a blll; give Congressional negotiators the time and space to work out a new House-Senate compromise.

I’ve heard this argument a number of times and I’m not really sure how this would work in practice. Even assuming that Democrats, within weeks, magically repair their political standing by addressing other issues, why would they then want to return to the issue that caused them to lose political standing in the first place?

Poll Shows Lincoln Getting Crushed in Arkansas

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, one of the red state Democrats who voted for the health care bill, is getting destroyed in a new poll in Arkansas, where voters disapprove of the legislation by an overhwelming 61 percent to 30 percent margin.

The survey, taken by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, shows Lincoln trailing potential Republican rival John Boozman by a staggering 53 percent to 33 percent margin. Her approval rating in the state has sunk to 27 percent, with 62 percent now disapproving of her.

But even if Lincoln gets discouraged by such polling and decides to retire, it still doesn’t do much for Democrats’ chances of retaining the seat, based on this poll. PPP also surveyed other possible Democratic nominees, and all of them trail the Republican.

Obama currently has a 38 percent approval rating in the state, with 58 percent disapproving.

Re: WashPo on Conservatism

It took the author over 2,200 words to reveal the shocking news that conservatives email each other and have meetings.

How is that possible? When you describe something as simple as a conservative blogger gathering like this:

The conference room is filled with young conservatives who gather around a table. Food from Chick-fil-A (founded by a prominent Christian leader ) is spread out in the back, under framed photos of Ronald Reagan and other movement heroes. It’s the weekly “bloggers briefing” at the Heritage Foundation, the D.C. conservative think tank.

Obamacare Premortems

I’ve been trying to avoid writing a “Why Obamacare Failed” post, because I don’t want to get ahead of the news, and I’ll stick to that. But over at Investor’s Business Daily, David Hogberg notes how Ted Kennedy’s absence — not just his death — was a major blow to the effort.

Why Obama Is an Even Bigger Spender Than Bush

In June 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama declared that President Bush had run “the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history.” At the time Obama made that statement, the highest deficit run up by the Bush administration was $412.7 billion. Today, President Obama released his administration’s new 10-year budget outlook and it never shows an annual deficit lower than $739 billion.

To be clear, this isn’t meant as a defense of the Bush administration’s fiscal record, which I view as completely atrocious.  The point is that as horrendous as the Bush administration’s record is, the Obama administration is far worse, even if you give Obama some leeway. Below, I made a number of calculations that cast an escalating amount of blame on Bush, and Obama still ends up as the worse spender.*

The years 2009 through 2011 are projected to be historically devastating from a budgetary standpoint because of the ongoing economic crisis. There’s a big partisan argument about who should be blamed for the deficits during this period, so in the first scenario, let’s just throw these out of the equation to get a better sense of spending during more typical years. If you do this, the average annual deficit during the Bush years (2001 through 2008) was 2 percent of GDP, or less than half the 4.04 percent average annual deficits anticipated by the Obama administration for 2012 through 2020. If you look at federal spending as a percentage of GDP (which I think is a better measure because it tells us the actual cost of the federal government to taxpayers), Obama also comes off worse — averaging 23.1 percent annually compared to 19.6 percent during the Bush years. 

Let’s just say we think that Obama and Bush should share the blame, and so instead of eliminating the three roughest years, we factor 2009 into Bush’s performance, while saying Obama’s responsibility truly starts in 2010. By that measure, Bush’s average annual deficits jump to 2.9 percent of GDP, but Obama’s projected shortfalls soar to 5 percent per year. In spending terms, Bush’s average rises to 20.2 percent, but Obama’s is higher still at 23.5 percent.

Let’s say we decide to be even more charitable, and accept the Obama administration’s argument that they were dealt a very bad hand, and that all of the stimulus spending and bailouts were a direct result of Bush’s failed economic policies. This would mean defining the Bush years so broadly as to include 2001 through 2011 and transferring Obama’s three worst budget years to the Bush record.

Under this scenario, from a deficit perspective, Obama finally comes off looking slightly better. On average, I calculated deficits at 4.07 percent of GDP for 2001 through 2011, compared to a forecast of 4.04 percent from 2012 through 2020. However, from a spending perspective, Obama still comes off worse. During the “Bush years” broadly defined, the spending average is 21.1 percent of GDP, while spending during the rest of the years projected under Obama’s budget (2012 through 2020), averages 23.1 percent of GDP. So in other words, even if we pretend that the economic stimulus bill counts as money spent by Bush, Obama is still a bigger spender. While that 2 percent difference in spending as a percentage of GDP may not sound like a lot, keep in mind that in dollar terms, the GDP is projected to be a combined $181.3 trillion during the years 2012 through 2020, according to the OMB. So 2 percent represents $3.6 trillion.

* I used Congressional Budget Office data for the years 2001 through 2009, and projections from Obama’s own Office of Management and Budget fro 2010 through 2020.

WH Sees Cumulative Deficts $2.1 Trillion Higher Than It Projected a Year Ago

There are a number of ways to look at today’s budget numbers. The White House, for instance, wants to focus on the idea that the fiscal year 2011 deficit is projected to be lower than the 2010 deficit. But that was largely expected already based on the assumptions that stimulus spending would wind down down, the economy would be better, and much of the Bush tax cuts would expire. That’s why I think a good way of looking at today’s announcement is: how does it stack up against what the Obama administration was projecting last year?

It turns out that in the budget it announced last February, the White House Office of Management and Budget projected cumulative deficits of $6.97 trillion for fiscal years 2010 through 2019, but in the budget it announced today, the comparable number swelled to $9.09 trillion — or an increase of about $2.1 trillion. In fiscal year 2011 alone, the deficit is now projected to be $1.27 trillion, compared to the year ago estimate of $912 billion — an increase of $355 billion for next year alone.

In its mid-session review last August, the Obama administration had already revised some of its earlier forecasts upward. Today’s projections tend to be higher than the August estimates in the first few years of the budget window, and then a bit lower in the later years. Overall, today’s estimates for 2010 to 2019 are still higher by $35 billion than what was projected in August.

As far as the cumulative debt held by the public, it’s now projected to reach a staggering $17.5 trillion in 2019, compared to an estimate of $15.37 trillion a year ago. 

I put together the chart below to demonstrate how today’s estimates compare to last February’s projections by the OMB.