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April 18, 2014

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Washington:

Card-check bill waitin’ on Al Franken

Vote in favor of Solis expected; ‘Dr. No’ seeks to ban funding of museums, parks, casinos in stimulus package

A top Democratic senator said Wednesday that the union-backed card-check bill will be taken up if and when Al Franken wins the contested Minnesota Senate race recount and joins the chamber.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, having been tapped by party leaders to usher the divisive bill through debate, said the Employee Free Choice Act could be under way on the Senate floor by spring.

After speaking at rally in favor of the bill, Harkin said that as soon as “we swear Franken in, this will be one of the first things we take up.”

The bill is highly contentious. Thousands of union workers descended on Washington this week to lobby members of Congress, carrying what they say are 1.5 million signatures of people who support the bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and groups that oppose the bill also have been active. One group released a survey showing little support for the bill, and the chamber is planning a lobbying blitz next month in Washington.

The bill would allow workers to form a union if a majority of them sign cards of support, rather than through a secret ballot election. Unions say management takes advantage of election campaigns to intimidate workers into voting no.

Management argues that the card-signing system gives union leaders a chance to muscle members free of competing arguments.

If approved, the system for organizing workplaces would revert to the kind that prevailed in an era of stronger unions, before Congress changed the law in 1947.

The bill easily passed the House in 2007, but died in the Senate on a nearly party-line vote, with just one Republican senator crossing over to support Democrats.

Democrats now have 58 seats in the Senate. If Franken is declared the winner in the continuing recount against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, Democrats’ numbers would stand at 59. That is one short of the number needed for passage, assuming no Democrats break ranks.

But Franken’s victory is not guaranteed, and Republicans on Tuesday continued to assert that Coleman will prevail.

•••

President Barack Obama’s stalled nominee for labor secretary is expected to be approved by committee on Thursday and passed to the full Senate for confirmation, sources said.

The nomination of Rep. Hilda Solis for the Labor Department position had been held up in part after the California Democrat declined to fully express her opinions on the controversial union-backed Employee Free Choice Act during her confirmation hearing.

Solis had been a supporter of the bill as a congresswoman. But at her Jan. 9 hearing, she said she could not express her view as she had not yet discussed the issue with Obama.

Several Republicans on the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee were not satisfied, and gave indications that the nomination could be in trouble.

But committee sources said the panel is expected to vote today. “She’ll likely get through,” said a Republican committee aide.

•••

Just to be sure the Las Vegas mob museum won’t get money from the economic recovery package, a Republican senator introduced an amendment to ban money for museums, casinos, zoos, golf courses or other “non-stimulative” projects.

Las Vegas wasn’t the only city eyeing the now $900 billion-plus economic package as a chance to get financial help to develop a museum dedicated to its storied past.

A Las Vegas Sun survey published this week found 43 museum projects across the nation were seeking $453 million from the package.

But Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a medical physician known as “Dr. No” for his opposition to much Washington spending, is having none of it.

“These pet projects won’t stimulate the economy,” Coburn spokesman Don Tatro said. “Rather than highlighting the criminal history of the mob, the Senate should address the toxic mortgages that started this economic crisis.”

The senator found success this week on his anti-Hollywood amendment, which blocked $246 million from going to help Hollywood production companies. It was approved Tuesday night 52-45.

The museum amendment stipulates no funding appropriated from the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act could go to any “casino or other gaming establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project.”

Writing in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, economic columnist David Leonhardt singled out the mob museum as the kind of potentially shovel-ready project that could actually stimulate the economy.

“For the bill to provide effective stimulus, it simply has to spend money — quickly,” Leonhardt wrote. “Even the construction of a mob museum in Las Vegas, a project that was crossed off the list after Republicans mocked it, would work to stimulate the economy, so long as ground was broken soon.”

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