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Mike Enzi’s Heroic Crusade to Not Have Labor Laws Enforced

Mike Enzi in Action

The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse reported yesterday that the Senate labor committee voted 13-10 to confirm M. Patricia Smith, to the third highest post in the Labor Dept. So months after her nomination, the full Senate will vote on whether to confirm Smith, the current New York state labor commissioner.

No, wait: it turns out that Mike Enzi, a Republican Senator from Wyoming and top GOP member of the labor committee, has put a “hold” on the Smith nomination. That mean’s 60 members of the Senate need to vote “yes” not to Smith’s confirmation, but the question of whether the Senate should even have a yes/no vote on Smith. Enzi’s ostensible reason for the Smith hold is too arcane and petty for me to possibly have success summarizing, so here’s what Greenhouse writes:

Mr. Enzi first urged Mr. Obama to withdraw the nomination in August, complaining of the inaccuracies in Ms. Smith’s testimony concerning New York Wage Watch, a program created by her department in which labor unions and groups advocating on behalf of low-wage immigrants work with state officials to uncover wage and hour violations.

At one point in her confirmation hearing, Ms. Smith said she had not had discussions about expanding Wage Watch. At another, she said the idea for Wage Watch had been developed within her department, before outsiders were approached about the program.

Ms. Smith, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has acknowledged since the hearing that she “misspoke.” In saying she had not discussed the program’s expansion, she had intended to say only that she had not authorized the expansion, her Democratic defenders say. And, they say, as for her testifying that the idea for the program originated within the department, she had not known that one of her deputies had consulted with a labor group about it.

The world’s greatest deliberative body should be more democratic than letting a lone crusader from Wyoming obstruct the work of the Labor Department.

Besides Smith, the labor committee also has not got around to voting yes/no on Lorelei Boylan, the president’s nominee to head the department’s wage and hour division. The wage and hour division could use the leadership: a scathing GAO report this March revealed that the division does not enforce basic wage laws like overtime pay and is unresponsive to worker complaints.

Enzi appears to have no interest in whether the Labor Dept. enforces basic labor laws — in fact, he is actively preventing the department from working. It’s his right as a Senator to  cynically exploit the rules of the upper chamber. However, given the number of holds and delayed confirmation votes it’s a wonder Congressional Democrats don’t publicize such obstruction more. The Democratic majority in the Senate could use their status to change the rules. The biggest suggested change is to get rid of the filibuster. But less blockbuster moves like getting rid of holds would also lead to more representative — and likely better — government

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