Obama threatens defense bill veto over anti-LGBTQ, anti-worker provisions

WASHINGTON – Anti-worker and anti-gay worker provisions, inserted in a huge Defense Department bill by the House’s ruling Republicans, are among the raft of reasons the Obama administration told Congress the president’s top advisors “would recommend he veto the bill.”

But whether that threat will move lawmakers remains to be seen. The monster bill also busts the budget caps for next year while not providing any money after April to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The administration objected to those sections, too.

The measure, HR4909, passed the House 277-147 on May 18, with 40 Democrats joining 237 Republicans in voting for it. Only five Republicans and 142 Democrats opposed it. The 147 votes against it are enough to uphold a veto, however.

Besides the provisions that drew Obama’s ire, the measure lays out defense spending priorities in excruciating detail. And the congressional report on the bill – not the bill itself – includes language from Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an IBEW member and former Southern New Jersey Building Trades Council president, telling DOD to educate its up-and-coming officers on the value of project labor agreements in defense construction contracts.

One labor section that drew Obama’s ire was inserted by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., who is also a member of the Armed Services Committee, which wrote the bill. Kline banned DOD from following Obama’s executive order saying that defense contractors must obey labor laws in order to win bids.

“The administration strongly objects to section 1095, which would roll back important safeguards established by the president to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not reward corporations that break labor laws and thereby jeopardize the performance and cost of federal contracting,” the Office of Management and Budget said.

“These safeguards give contracting officers the information they need to assess a contractor’s record of integrity and assist contractors with significant labor violations in improving their labor law compliance. In doing so, these protections help ensure law-abiding contractors do not have to compete with those who offer lower bids based on savings from skirting the law.

“The administration is committed to working with contractors who invest in their workers’ safety and maintain a fair and equitable workplace, and section 1095 would impede efforts that will bring efficiencies and cost savings to the federal government.”

Kline’s home-state colleague, Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minn., also criticized the move. But the House Rules Committee, which decides those amendments lawmakers can debate, wouldn’t even let Ellison try to defend Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order. The committee defeated Ellison’s proposal to overturn Kline’s move on a 9-3 party-line vote.

“While millions of Americans are struggling to get by and sustain their families, Republicans are trying to make it easier for employers to steal their wages. Right now we know that there are reports of at least $5 million in stolen wages and penalties from the U.S. contract companies,” Ellison told his colleagues.

“This executive order helps ensure companies with federal contracts are following federal labor laws, like protections against wage theft, workplace safety rules, and the right for workers to organize. It is the result of years of advocacy by workers, labor rights activists, members of the Progressive Caucus, and members of Congress generally.

“Let’s at least have a debate about it. Let’s at least debate whether or not workers should get protection from wage theft.” He called the Rules panel decision “no surprise… because they don’t want to have to debate this in front of the American people. The American people might like to know there are companies that are stealing workers’ wages but…now the Republican majority is trying to stop the president from protecting those workers.”

The talk of a presidential veto too because of the anti-gay provisions the GOP slipped into the bill, comes only six days after the Senate, on May 17, finally confirmed Eric Fanning as Secretary of the Army. The confirmation makes him the first openly gay civilian head of the service n history.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., blasted the GOP for overturning, in the bill, Obama’s government-wide ban on discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. The ruling Republicans claimed they were protecting religious liberty.

“Gimme a break,” Nadler replied. “The bill contains language adopted…at 1 in the morning the other day with no warning that would effectively overturn President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT workers for companies with private contracts.

“In other words, private contractors using our federal tax dollars in any area-not just in the defense area, by the way-would be allowed to fire someone just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. This is unacceptable, it is cruel, and it is totally unnecessary.

“It says private contractors, in the exercise of their religious liberty, may discriminate. It disallows the president’s executive order, and so the effect is that private contractors may discriminate on the basis of sexual identity or gender if that is their religious belief.”

The Office of Management and Budget stated Obama would cite that provision as another reason to veto HR4909. “The administration strongly objects to section 1094, which would undermine important protections put in place by the president to ensure federal contractors and subcontractors do not engage in discriminatory employment practices,” OMB said.

“This administration is committed to promoting equal employment opportunities for all Americans regardless of who they are or who they love while at the same time preserving longstanding safeguards in the law for religious liberty, including the religious exemption” in civil rights law. “In authorizing certain federal awardees to discriminate in government-funded jobs, section 1094 represents a step in the wrong direction for our country that will keep qualified American workers from being able to hold jobs funded by the American people.”

Photo: AP



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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.