Ballot Box to Shape Labor Issues in Congress

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By Chris Opfer

Nov. 7 — Much is at stake on the labor front when officials start counting ballots Nov. 8, as election results will decide how Congress approaches the issues for at least the next two years.

Republicans are likely to continue to try to peel back a wide range of Obama administration labor initiatives if they keep control of one or both chambers. Prime targets include the overtime rule, new pay data disclosure requirements and expanded joint employer liability.

Democrats, on the other hand, are expected to focus on raising the federal minimum wage and expanding collective bargaining rights for workers if they land a majority on either side of the Capitol. They’ll also look to defend many of the regulations slated to take effect shortly before President Barack Obama leaves office.

“This election couldn’t be more important for small business,” Jack Mozloom, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 7. The NFIB hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate, but is backing a number of those running for Congress who support reducing taxes and regulations. “We’re on pins and needles,” Mozloom said.

White House candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have largely mirrored their parties positions on labor issues, while also vowing to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure projects and scrap the pending Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. Whether either would be able to get anything done would depend on the relationship with whoever is running the show in Congress.

Republicans appear poised to retain control of the House, but they may find themselves with a narrower majority next year. A handful of tight races are expected to determine Senate control.

Clinton topped Trump by 3 points in the final Bloomberg Politics national poll, released Nov. 7.

Divided Government

No matter who wins the White House and congressional elections, the incoming commander-in-chief is probably looking at some form of divided government. That’s because Senate rules require at least 60 votes to pass legislation in the chamber and neither party is expected to win a filibuster-proof majority.

Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to at least cut back on Republicans’ 58-member majority in the House. If they can lessen Republican control, they’ll have a better shot at forcing a GOP leadership that’s been confounded at times by the party’s conservative wing to reach across the aisle.

“It’s incredibly important,” Michael Darner, the Congressional Progressive Caucus executive director, told Bloomberg BNA Nov 4. Darner said winning back more Democratic seats in the House “makes it harder for Republicans to push through a really extreme agenda.”

Committee Moves

The elections will also dictate who’s at the helm of Congress’s two labor committees. Those panels help set the policy agenda in each chamber and are considered one of the first lines of defense against perceived executive overreach.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is widely expected to return to the top Republican position on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the next Congress. Ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is believed to be in line for a leadership gig on the Appropriations Committee, meaning Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bob Casey (D-Conn.) would be next in line for the panel’s Democratic leadership.

The leadership picture is also slightly cloudy for the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is the front-runner to become chairwoman when Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) retires at the end of the year.

Rep. Bobby Scott (Va.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, is considered to be at the top of the list of lawmakers who could move into vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-Va.) seat if Kaine joins Clinton in the White House. That would open up a possible panel leadership spot for Rep. Susan Davis (Calif.), who has already received public backing from some of the committee’s top Democrats.

Whoever winds up in the White House, he or she is nearly certain to look to score a couple of easy wins to start the relationship off with Congress on the right foot. On the labor front, that may mean focusing on training and apprenticeship programs, which have previously garnered bipartisan support.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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