2012: More battles ahead on Capitol Hill for workers

Workers, their unions and their allies are gearing up for more tough legislative fights in 2012.

With the possible exception of an extension of extra federal jobless benefits by the end of February, little or nothing in the way of pro-worker legislation should be expected from the God-forsaken 112th Congress.

And even the jobless benefits extension may not get smooth sailing. The GOP-dominated House and the Democratic-run Senate, controlled or hamstrung by GOP filibusters and filibuster threats, have yet to agree on how to pay for the benefits.

So where do we go from here? Interviews and news reports – indeed one roll call already taken in the House – show us what to expect from Congress in 2012: Lots of posturing, little else.

There are some items the lawmakers must enact, however.

First out of the box, by the end of January, is legislation renewing the Federal Aviation Administration’s programs, including its multi-billion-dollar plan to bring U.S. air traffic control out of 1950s-era radar to a 21st-century GPS-based system.

This legislation is important to workers for several reasons. One big one is the law would let the government release funds for airport improvements, which could employ at least 100,000 construction workers.

Another is the long-running partisan fight over union election rules for railroad and airline workers. The Republicans want to roll back the rule so unions would win recognition only when they get an absolute majority of all voters, with non-voters counted as “no” votes.

Labor, the National Mediation Board, and the Democrats want the wins to be by simple majority of those voting. The Chamber of Commerce has apparently dropped its opposition to the simple-majority requirement, so the GOP may – may – do so, too.

Once Congress gets done with the FAA bill, the unemployment benefits extension will be the number two must-do item. But even there, expect shenanigans, such as Republicans trying to load it down with pro-business provisions that have nothing to do with either benefits or jobs.

After that, there may be legislation authorizing highway and mass transit projects. Again, this is important for construction workers, and for anyone who takes the bus or subway to work.

Labor estimates that every billion dollars in highway construction spending creates 47,000 jobs. The Amalgamated Transit Union cites a similar, though smaller, job creation figure for building a subway.

With construction unemployment running at 16 percent, almost double the national rate, both the FAA and highway-mass transit measures are important job creators.

And the mass transit bill is also important for cutting air pollution, by encouraging mass transit use. Workers at participating government employers got subsidies of $230 each to take mass transit to work, until last Dec. 31. Then it dropped to $125.

That decline pushed people back into their cars. The bill would presumably restore the $230.

But after those three items of legislation, expect very little out of the 112th Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will call up other job creation bills – and watch the GOP filibuster stymie them. The House GOP leadership will call up and pass anti-worker, pro-business, pro-Right Wing bills – and see them deep-sixed in the Senate. All those votes will be just for show. You get the idea.

That means nothing gets done between say, March and the election – and maybe not even after that. Post-November, you’ll have a Congress full of lame ducks, and a President Obama who will be a lame duck regardless of whether he’s re-elected, given the GOP’s unanimous stonewalling of anything Obama proposes.

The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year. Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling again, foreshadowing a rerun of this past summer’s to-the-brink impasse. The jobless benefits end again. And unless lawmakers find other ways to cut the federal budget deficit, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, all from domestic programs, will take effect in Jan. 2013.

Put all this together and 2012 on Capitol Hill spells more of the same for workers: Gridlock, deadlock, and little to no action on jobs. Ugh.

Photo by People’s World.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).