In a move that shows just how extreme the Republican Party has become, Tom Coburn and Rand Paul have convinced 34 of their fellow GOP senators--a total of three-fourths of the Republican Senate caucus--to sign on to a law that would make it impossible for the federal government to protect workers' rights. This law is so extreme that I'm reposting from yesterday.
The bill, the "Enumerated Powers Act of 2013," would not only require each bill before Congress to cite the constitutional authority Congress has to act in that area, but would allow any member to use a point of order to kill any bill that doesn't cite constitutional autority. While the bill's text isn't available online as of yet, Coburn himself put out a press release saying that one of its provisions would forbid the use of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution for any matter other than "the regulation of the buying and selling of goods or services, or the transporting for those purposes, across boundaries with foreign nations, across State lines, or with Indian tribes." Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress saw this release and concludes--rightly--that this bill would have the effect of gaggng any future federal efforts to protect the rights of workers.
To translate this language a bit, in the late 19th Century, the Supreme Court embraced an unusually narrow interpretation of the Constitution’s provision enabling Congress to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states.” Under this narrow reading, which lasted less than half a century, the justices said that they would only permit federal laws that regulated the transport of goods for sale or a sale itself. Manufacturing, mining, production and agriculture were all held to be beyond federal regulation. This theory was the basis for several decisions striking down basic labor protections, including a 1918 decision declaring a child labor law unconstitutional.It should come as no shock that Coburn and Paul are driving the bus on this bill. After all, they are among the closest things in the Senate to simon-pure teabaggers. For instance, back in March Paul made a speech praising Lochner v. New York, a 1905 SCOTUS ruling that foreclosed any attempts to regulate worker-employer relations. That decision was effectively overturned in 1937 by West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish. It commonly appears on lists of the worst SCOTUS decisions ever. Even Robert Bork called that decision an abomination. Robert Bork, people.
Coburn and Paul’s bill appears to be an attempt to restore the constitutional regime that prohibited child labor regulation and other such nationwide regulation of the American workplace. While the bill does not apply retroactively — so existing labor laws would continue to function — the bill does allow a procedural objection to be raised against any new legislation that does not comply with the limits imposed by the bill. Such an objection could be used to block any most attempts to enact new workplace laws — such as a bill increasing the national minimum wage or a bill prohibiting all employers from firing workers because they are gay. Similarly, Coburn and Paul’s bill could permanently entrench decisions by the conservative Roberts Court rolling back existing protections for workers — such as a recent decision shielding many employers whose senior employees engage in sexual harassment.
I did some digging on Thomas, and it turns out a slightly less expansive version is pending in the House. Phil Gingrey (R-GA11) is sponsoring the House version, with Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA3), Bill Posey (R-FL8), Rob Wittman (R-VA1), Jeff Duncan (R-SC3) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN7). While the premise behind both these bills is loony, I never thought I'd see the day a House Republican bill would be less loony than a Senate Republican bill.
What comes as a shock, however, is the amount of support this monstrosity has attracted. Some of the names on the cosponsor list come as no surprise--Mike Lee, Jim Inhofe, Deb Fischer, Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake, Pat Toomey, Tim Scott and Roger Wicker, among others. But there are a good number of supposedly sane Repubs on the list as well--Chuck Grassley, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jerry Moran, Kelly Ayotte and Bob Corker. And the only member of the Republican Senate leadership who isn't on board with this crazy bill is Rob Portman.
As if there weren't already abundant reasons to wonder if the Republican Party has become a far-right party, this one is a lulu.
12:21 PM PT: Wow, I come back from a grocery run to find myself on the rec list. Since it got there, I thought I'd mention something CroneWit brought up in the comments. Although Coburn seems to harp on the fact that this bill would effectively neuter attempts to protect workers, this bill is actually an attempt to write tentherism into United States Code. If they succeed, the results will be nothing short of disastrous, as Millhiser's bosses at the Center for American Progress pointed out in a 2011 issue brief about what the tea party would like to do to this country.