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By Chris Opfer
Oct. 24 — The lawmaker leading the charge against the Labor Department’s new overtime rule appears to be winning the battle for campaign cash in his swing district re-election race.
Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) brought in just under $550,000 in contributions in the third quarter of this year, about $15,000 less than Democratic challenger Gretchen Driskell. But Walberg has $1.1 million in the bank as the candidates in Michigan’s Seventh District head into the November election’s home stretch, more than double Driskell’s bankroll.
“It’s obviously one of our top seats to defend,” Chris Pack, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Bloomberg BNA. “I don’t think there is a sense of panic on our side.”
Walberg sponsored legislation passed in the House in September that would delay the new overtime requirements for six months. He’s echoed business concerns that the changes will force employers to cut jobs and hours by driving up payroll costs.
Driskell looks to paint the four-term lawmaker as the Grinch who tried to steal workers’ holiday bonuses, noting that the rule is expected to make some 4 million employees newly eligible for overtime pay beginning Dec. 1. She’s also labeled Walberg “Trade deal Tim,” chiding him for his support of trade agreements that Driskell says have helped decimate Michigan’s manufacturing industry.
The contest is one of several competitive races getting increasing interest as Democrats hope to hack away at Republicans’ majority control of the House. The district currently leans Republican, according to Real Clear Politics and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, but has gone for candidates on both sides of the aisle in recent years.
Walberg and Driskell’s division on overtime echoes a larger debate over whether the new rule will help workers by putting more money in their pockets or instead cost them their jobs. The battle is playing out in the Capitol and a federal court in Texas, where business groups and 21 states have asked a judge to put the rule on hold.
Walberg has been out front in the fight against the overtime rule as part of his role as chairman of an Education and the Workforce subcommittee. That includes sponsoring the legislation to delay the rule, which passed in the House during a flurry of activity just before lawmakers fled the Capitol for a six-week recess heading into the November elections.
“This is not the way to go,” Walberg told Bloomberg BNA of the overtime rule, shortly before the House passed his bill. “This puts the pressure on businesses, but will ultimately cost employees jobs, resume building experience, salary positions, you name it.”
The rule will more than double the salary threshold—up to about $47,500—under which workers are automatically entitled to time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked beyond 40 in a week. It also automatically adjusts that threshold for inflation every three years.
The Obama administration, labor groups and other supporters have said the new rule combats wage stagnation by boosting a vital protection for workers that had been watered down over the years.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business are among the employer groups that have endorsed Walberg in the race. Even with a significant cash advantage, he’ll need all the help he can get in a district that’s been home to some tight contests in recent years.
Walberg won the seat by 4 percentage points in 2006, but was ousted two years later in the same elections cycle that sent President Barack Obama to the White House. He’s held onto the seat for three more terms since winning it back in 2010.
This time around, Donald Trump’s sputtering performance in the polls could make Walberg’s road back to Congress even more difficult to navigate. Hillary Clinton leads Trump in Michigan polls by an average of 10 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics.
Walberg, a former preacher, recently criticized the New York businessman for lewd comments that surfaced.
Still, Walberg is still backing Trump. “Congressman Walberg is supportive of the Republican nominee,” committee spokesman Stephen Rajzer told Bloomberg BNA.
Driskell, a state lawmaker and the former Mayor of Saline, Mich., on the campaign trail is touting her long-standing opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That’s helped her to win the support of labor unions, which are railing against the 12-nation trade deal as a job killer.
“My sense is that he’s out of touch with the needs of the people here in the district,” Driskell told Bloomberg BNA, referring to Walberg. “He’s been inadequate on supporting good paying jobs in our district.”
The AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Communications Workers of America are among the labor organizations that have endorsed Driskell.
Unions are concerned that the TPP will make it easier for employers to ship jobs overseas to countries with weak labor protections, like Vietnam and Brunei. Although Walberg has since said he opposes the trade deal, UFCW Local 951 President John Cakmakci noted that the lawmaker voted in favor of legislation to fast track the agreement’s approval with limited congressional oversight.
“Gretchen came out against this right from the get go,” Cakmakci told Bloomberg BNA. “That’s what I like about her: she says what she’s going to do and she does it.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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