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Beltway Buzz, November 3, 2017

Author: James J. Plunkett (Washington DC)

Published Date: November 3, 2017

House Republicans Release Long-Awaited Tax Package. On Thursday, November 2, House Republicans released the legislative text of their eagerly awaited tax reform bill. While the bill was originally rumored to be dubbed the “The Cut Cut Cut Act,” Republicans went with the only-slightly-better moniker, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” The bill is the result of hyperactivity and last-minute scrambling, most of it behind closed doors—and nearly all of it undertaken in an effort to balance the ledger sheets. At this early stage, the Buzz is loath to go on record regarding details of a 430-page tax bill, but we will have more on this in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Republicans have released policy highlights as well as a section-by-section summary, and Democrats have responded as well. As for the employer community’s reactions, the National Association of Manufacturers refers to the bill as a “grand slam,” the National Retail Federation calls it “the perfect present for the American people and the U.S. economy,” and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that the bill is “exactly what our nation needs to get our economy growing faster.” Conversely, both the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Homebuilders have come out against the bill. The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to begin marking-up the bill on Monday, November 6. (Hat tip to Richard C. Libert.)

Overtime Appeal. Apropos of Halloween, the legal challenge to the 2016 changes to the overtime rules has come back to life . . . sort of. On October 30, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) filed an appeal of the August 2017 decision by a federal judge to invalidate the rules. But the DOL simultaneously announced that it would also be asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to hold the appeal in abeyance “while the Department of Labor undertakes further rulemaking to determine what the salary level should be.” Like a National League team beating another National League team to win the World Series, this is all getting a bit confusing. Fortunately, Steven F. Pockrass has the details

Democrats Outline Labor Policy Positions. This week, Democrats released the details of their “Better Deal” platform that relate to workers and employers. It is an ambitious agenda, to say the least, and it provides a glimpse into how Democratic candidates will position themselves on labor issues in the 2018 election cycle. Among the policy changes recommended in the “Better Deal” are the following:

  • Increase penalties on employers for labor violations and treat union activity as a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for purposes of retaliation.
  • Ban right-to-work laws.
  • Codify the National Labor Relations Board’s decisions in Browning-Ferris and D.R. Horton.
  • Limit employers’ free speech rights.
  • Enact the Employee Free Choice Act’s binding arbitration provision for first contracts.
  • Make the use of permanent replacements unlawful and make secondary boycotts lawful.

Of course, the agenda has no chance of becoming law anytime soon, but it could come into play depending on how the political winds blow in the coming years.

OSHA Nominee. On October 27, President Trump nominated Scott Mugno to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In the Buzz’s opinion, Mugno is more than qualified for the job and will make an excellent Assistant Secretary. But what would his confirmation mean from a policy perspective? Arthur G. Sapper clues us in on what to expect

Griffin’s Term Ends. Halloween couldn’t have been a more fitting day for National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Richard Griffin to turn into a pumpkin, as his four-year term ended when the clock struck midnight. In the employer community, Griffin will be remembered for his expansive views of both Section 7 and the joint-employer standard, the latter of which is most famously exemplified by Griffin’s ongoing efforts to hold franchisors responsible for the alleged unlawful acts of their franchisees. With the General Counsel position now vacant, Jennifer A. Abruzzo—previously the NLRB’s Deputy General Counsel—has been named Acting General Counsel. Abruzzo’s tenure in that role will likely be short-lived, however, as the Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Peter Robb for General Counsel early next week. 

NMB Members Confirmed. Yesterday, Kyle Fortson, Gerald W. Fauth, and Linda A. Puchala were all confirmed as members of the National Mediation Board (NMB). The NMB facilitates labor-management relations within the nation’s railroad and airline industries.

Health Insurance Markets. Although Congress has seemingly moved on to tax reform, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) continue to advocate for a short-term fix to stabilize individual health insurance markets. Earlier this week, the senators released a list of more than 200 groups who support the ‘‘Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017.’’ Despite the support, the bill still likely faces steep odds in Congress.

EEOC News. After a six-month pilot program, on November 1, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the launch of an EEOC Public Portal to provide online access to individuals inquiring about discrimination. The Public Portal is intended to facilitate the process of filing and managing charges of discrimination with the agency. In other EEOC developments, check out this in-depth interview with Commissioner Chai Feldblum on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as the interview she conducted with Ogletree Deakins last year. 

Boehner Speaks. Lots of folks in D.C. are talking about this very interesting—and very candid—profile in Politico Magazine of former U.S. House Speaker, John Boehner. Suffice it to say that the former Speaker isn’t itching to get back to Washington, D.C. anytime soon.

Presidential Ghosts. It comes as no surprise that the White House, with its long and significant history, has become associated with various paranormal tales throughout the years. While it is probably safe to say that Abraham Lincoln didn’t hunt vampires, this article from The Washington Post does a pretty good job of convincing even the most dubious of readers that the White House may be haunted. So maybe it’s really a ghost who is behind those early-morning tweets.

James J. Plunkett  (Washington DC)

James J. Plunkett
Jim Plunkett is a Senior Government Relations Counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of Ogletree Deakins. Jim was previously the Director for Labor Law Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where he focused on legislation, regulations, and policy decisions that impact the workplace. This included activity concerning the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as international labor issues. Prior to joining the Chamber, Jim...

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