A Back Seat For Bloggers

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Every two years, a new crop of lawmakers storms Capitol Hill with a determination to change the way Washington works. With few exceptions, it doesn’t take long for Congress to put the underclassmen in their place. The newcomers get the least influential committee assignments, the most remote and least ornate office space, and little time in the spotlight.

This year, bloggers are the figurative freshmen of larger Washington. They have won enough respect in certain pockets of America to claim occasional seats at the policymaking table — but they are definitely back seats.

That reality has been abundantly evident the past couple of weeks, as conservative bloggers have been showered with ever more attention from the Republican powers that be — yet have nothing substantive to show for it.

The battle over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers illustrates the point well. Many bloggers oppose her nomination — a poll at The Truth Laid Bear puts the opposition-to-support ratio at more than 4-to-1 — but President Bush seems determined to stand loyally by his lawyer.

Although the opposition from bloggers spurred the Republican National Committee to hold its first-ever exclusive conference call with bloggers, the event was more about wooing bloggers than inviting them into a conversation, which is what bloggers want. The same was true of a second call about a week later.

Bulldog Pundit at Ankle Biting Pundits praised the outreach by the RNC but said the general message — wait until Miers’ confirmation hearings, and you will become more comfortable with her selection — has been unconvincing. “[M]y thought goes to the Seinfeld episode where they kept saying ‘Yada, yada, yada.’ … The best she can do (and likely will) is offer general bromides about the court ‘not legislating from the bench,’ which sounds good but tells us nothing.”


Toward Higher Wages And Bankruptcy Reform

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

The red-and-blue divide that separates America politically is as obvious online as on electoral maps, and these days the split is readily apparent in the different responses to Hurricane Katrina.

While many conservative bloggers have dedicated themselves to reawakening fiscal discipline within the Republican Party, the mini-blogging empire of liberal Joshua Micah Marshall has focused its energy on reversing two GOP-engineered policies that could impact the storm’s victims most directly: construction wages and bankruptcy reform.

Marshall is taking the lead on the first issue at his original blog, Talking Points Memo. Soon after President Bush used his emergency powers to waive the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federal projects to pay workers the local “prevailing wage,” Marshall cried foul and rallied his grassroots readership to do the same with their lawmakers.

“I’m just curious to find out where everyone stands. … Ring up your representative or senator and ask,” he wrote. “Or if you see their position on their Web site or in the paper, send us the link. We’ll make a list and see where everyone stands on the president’s Gulf Coast Wage Cut.”

Over the next several days, Marshall posted about 20 entries on the topic. He linked to the press releases of lawmakers, whether for or against Bush on the issue, and he characterized as “wigglers” those who waffled when called by their constituents. Talking Points Memo even followed up one reader’s report with a call to the office of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to confirm its belief that she was “a finger in the wind” on the issue.

Prevailing Views On Prevailing Wages

Originally published at National Journal
K. Daniel Glover

One of President Bush’s first steps in response to Hurricane Katrina was to suspend the law that governs the wages of workers who construct federal facilities. The move means that contractors involved in federal reconstruction within the hurricane zone can pay workers less than the average wage for the Gulf Coast region.

The 1931 Davis-Bacon Act allows the president to take such unilateral action during national emergencies, but organized labor and its allies in Congress are furious nonetheless. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to overturn Bush’s decision, and the measure now has 204 co-sponsors. On TPMCafe, a liberal Web log, Miller has called Bush “immoral” for, in effect, cutting the wages of Gulf Coast construction workers from an already low $7-to-$8 per hour to the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

The ongoing debate has once again put a spotlight on the 1931 law, which caused minimal concern in Congress when it was enacted, but which has prompted numerous calls for its repeal since. “If you tried to pass Davis-Bacon again, it would never pass — and Bush wouldn’t sign it if it did pass,” said law professor David Bernstein, who wrote about the act in a 2001 book, Only One Place of Redress: African-Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts From Reconstruction to the New Deal. “But it’s always harder to repeal.”

The idea of guaranteeing a certain wage on federal construction projects in order to combat “cheap, imported labor” was not always popular. Although Kansas passed the first state law on the subject in 1891, the idea did not take solid root at the federal level until more than 35 years later, when protecting local wages became a pet issue of Rep. Robert Bacon, R-N.Y. And even then, it was largely a personal crusade spurred when in 1927, an Alabama contractor who paid lower wages won a bid to build a veterans’ hospital in Bacon’s Long Island district.

Based on that episode, Bacon introduced a bill to regulate wages on federal projects. Over the next four years, according to Bernstein’s research, Bacon introduced another 13 bills to regulate the labor force on such projects, and Congress held hearings on the issue in 1928, 1930, and 1931. Rep. Elliott Sproul, R-Ill., filed the first bill to mandate the local prevailing wage in 1930, and Bacon incorporated the idea into his own legislation a year later.