CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
May 30, 2012 – 11:01 p.m.
GOP Sets Choice: Labor or Veterans
By Kerry Young, CQ Staff
Republicans are bringing tough election year politics to the House floor, attempting to force Democrats to choose between veterans and labor unions.
The Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill usually moves without much controversy. But the fiscal 2013 bill (
Such agreements, encouraged under an executive order by President Obama, establish terms of employment, including pay, for large projects and are highly prized by labor unions.
A proposed amendment from
The White House has already threatened a veto of the appropriations bill because House Republicans are proposing to hold overall fiscal 2013 discretionary spending below the level set in last year’s debt limit and deficit reduction law (PL 112-25). The administration also pointed to the “problematic” labor language that it said has “no place in funding legislation.”
The GOP has been working to sidetrack PLAs since last year, using spending and authorization bills as vehicles. Democrats, joined by more than two dozen Republicans, rebuffed three attempts last year to alter current federal policy on PLAs.
But the House voted 211-209 on May 17 to add a provision to the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill (
Democrats will need the support of GOP lawmakers from the Northeast and from urban areas who have been more sympathetic to the use of PLAs. That includes Grimm, a freshman from New York’s heavily blue-collar Staten Island, who said he “grew up in a union home where my father taught me the value of a hard day’s work.”
“My prediction is my amendment passes,” Grimm said. “My biggest reason for this amendment is this: Why take away an option for the [Department of Defense] or anyone else? This amendment does not say that you’re mandated to use PLAs. I would never do that. This simply says that the DoD has the option.”
A Nationwide Effort
The battle in Congress is part of a larger effort nationwide to end rules that builders say favor unions and drive up construction costs.
Voters in San Diego next week will decide the fate of a ballot initiative that would bar the use of PLAs there. Democratic California Gov.
GOP Sets Choice: Labor or Veterans
The White House in its veto threat said the labor agreements “provide structure and stability to large construction projects, and allow agencies to complete these projects more efficiently.”
The use of PLAs at the federal level in recent years has depended on control of the White House. President George Bush in 1992 barred agencies from using PLAs in construction projects. President Clinton rescinded the order the following year. President George W. Bush barred agencies from requiring them, an order Obama reversed in 2009.
The veto threat, however, is focused on the underlying budget number the House is using for all its spending measures. The appropriations for Military Construction-VA is about flat to the current fiscal year, and close to the White House request, although it rejects a 0.5 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers covered in the programs. The White House has said repeatedly that Obama will not sign spending bills developed under the House’s $1.028 trillion cap in federal discretionary spending.
The Military Construction-VA bill has been seen as one of the most likely spending bills to be completed before the new budget year begins Oct. 1. In previous years, it has received more than 400 votes in the House. And it is likely to draw strong support again in both chambers, particularly if the controversial PLA provision is removed.
But if the spending bill passes the House with the bar against PLAs included, Republican proponents would press for the measure in any broader catch-all spending plan that could be negotiated with the Senate later in the year.
The AFL-CIO’s point man on the PLA fight on the Hill said he is confident the House will block the provision.
“The last one we lost by one or two votes with a few Democrats missing,” said Michael Monroe, the chief of staff for the AFL-CIO’s building and construction trades department, who said the union is working to ensure there is not a repeat of the large number of absentees on a PLA vote.
“This is a key vote for us, no question,” he said. “It will be close. We think we’ve got a sizable number of Republicans.”
David Harrison, Karin Fuog and George Cahlink contributed to this story.