Thursday, February 14, 2019

McConnell sets Green New Deal trap -- Feb. 14, 2019 column


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been in the Senate longer than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has been alive.

That imbalance became clear Tuesday as McConnell set up a vote to make Democrats pay for their reckless embrace of the Green New Deal.

McConnell, who turns 77 Wednesday, arrived in the Senate in 1985. Ocasio-Cortez was born in 1989.

At 29, she is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, a wizard at social media with 3.1 million Twitter followers. A video of her House Oversight and Reform Committee “Lightning Round” take-down at the of lax ethics and campaign finance rules is an internet sensation.

But her rollout of the much-anticipated Green New Deal was a disaster.

To recap, her office released and then retracted a frequently-asked-questions sheet that included the goals of economic security for people “unwilling to work,” and eventually ridding the country of flatulent cows, airplanes and various industries.

None of those ideas is in the actual resolution, H. Res. 109, but they were the first many people heard about the Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t help matters when she falsely said there were “doctored” FAQ versions on the internet.

The resolution is non-binding but would indicate support to set the federal government on the path of a “10 year national mobilization” to fight climate change and remake the economy.

Among the goals: “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” It also guarantees jobs, education, food and health care for everyone.

Such sweeping changes need serious consideration with months, if not years, of hearings, and compromises. By rushing out a resolution in her first month in office, Ocasio-Cortez delighted her fans but walked into a trap.

The conservative media and President Donald Trump quickly blasted the Green New Deal as ridiculous.

“It sounds like a high school term paper that got a low mark,” Trump said at a campaign rally in El Paso. “I really don’t like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane rights, of ‘Let’s hop a train to California,’ or you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!”

Ocasio-Cortez rightly could have said her manifesto wouldn’t do any of those things. It doesn’t include any specific proposals. But she lobbed her response by tweet: “Ah yes, a man who can’t even read briefings written in full sentences is providing literary criticism of a House Resolution.

Meanwhile, McConnell, a veteran of many political wars, was setting the trap.

He looked like the cat that swallowed the canary when he announced the Senate would vote on the Green New Deal resolution. A resolution identical to Ocasio-Cortez’s was introduced by Sen. Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts.

“We’ll give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how they feel about the Green New Deal,” McConnell told reporters. 

Mischievous Mitch used to say he would only bring measures to the floor that would get Trump’s signature. This time he means to get Democrats on the record so Republican candidates can hammer them during 2020 campaigns.

Half a dozen Democratic senators are running for president, and nearly a dozen Democrats face tough Senate re-election bids.

The botched rollout has made more than Ocasio-Cortez look amateurish. So too do the presidential hopefuls who jumped on the bandwagon. 

Six cosponsors are announced or likely presidential contenders -- Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who may run again, is also a cosponsor.

In contrast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 78, a wily congressional veteran who came to the House in 1987, has kept the Green New Deal at arm’s length.

“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi told Politico. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”

Pelosi saw early what’s now dawning on less savvy Democrats: The Green New Deal wasn’t ready for prime time. It created a political opening for Republicans and a liability for Democrats.   

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Fair pay law for women early test for Democratic Congress -- Feb. 7, 2019 column


The most memorable visual from the State of the Union was the most joyous.

We’re used to Republican members of Congress popping up from their chairs and dutifully applauding President Donald Trump – and to Democrats, with rare exceptions, sitting glumly.    

On Tuesday night, though, dozens of Democratic women wearing “suffragette white” to show solidarity and to honor the legacy of the suffragette movement, became a wave of celebration.

The women were largely quiescent until Trump began touting the economy.

“No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year,” he said.

The women – many of them newcomers to Congress – perked up. Smiling, they looked around, stood and applauded, pointing to themselves and each other. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi beamed.

“Don’t sit yet. You’re going to like this,” Trump said. “And exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before,” he said.

At that, the women -- many of whom ran for Congress and won because of their outspoken opposition to Trump’s policies – rejoiced in their triumph with energetic fist-pumps, high fives and hugs. Their jubilation was infectious.

Now they need to harness their enthusiasm to succeed in the hyper-partisan capital. 

The Democratic House must deliver on promises to make Washington work for everybody.

It’s exciting to think the new members actually will build coalitions and pass bills that better the lives of women and families. Even Trump says he favors paid family and medical leave, although there’s nothing to show for it.  

One of the first tests for Congress is ensuring women get equal pay for their work. Finally.

Equal pay has been the law of the land since the 1960s, but the gender pay gap – the difference in median earnings of a man and a woman each working full time -- persists.

A woman in 2017 earned about 20 percent less than a man, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures. The wage gap is worse for black women and Hispanic women.

This isn’t a fluke or women working in “women’s” jobs that pay less. Men’s median weekly pay exceeds women’s in almost every occupation -- from chief executives to janitors and building cleaners, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was first introduced more than a decade ago. It would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and make employers more accountable for their pay practices.

It would end pay secrecy and retaliation – workplace rules that keep workers from asking about others’ wages and disclosing their own; allow workers to sue for damages from pay discrimination; strengthen penalties for equal pay violations, and update the federal role in education, research and data-collection to combat gender discrimination.  

The House first passed Paycheck Fairness in January 2009, but the bill died in the Senate. It has been reintroduced repeatedly and has always failed.  

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, and Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, reintroduced the measure Jan. 30.

In the House, every Democrat and one Republican are cosponsors. In the Senate, there are 45 cosponsors – all Democrats and Bernie Sanders, independent. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia are cosponsors.

Rep. Bobby Scott, Democrat of Virginia, is now chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and plans to fast-track the legislation with a hearing this month and a House vote soon after. The goal is to have a bill on Trump’s desk by early April.

But passage is hardly assured. Even though more women serve in Congress than ever, they still make up only about a quarter of the total membership.

What’s needed is a thaw in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republicans oppose the bill as unnecessary, saying it burdens employers and could even harm women,  if employers are reluctant to hire them.

But surely in 2019 equal pay for women doing equal work is an issue we all can agree on.

It’s time for Congress – new members and veterans – to turn to the hard work of governing and get the job done.

  ©2019 Marsha Mercer All rights reserved.