White House threat calms Republicans

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The threat of a veto has helped quell a Republican rebellion today that would nullify new Labor Department rules designed to give union members more detailed information about the financial activities of their unions.

The White House Tuesday evening released a statement threatening a veto of the House labor, health and human services and education subcommittee’s appropriations bill if an amendment to kill the new requirements was included. The amendment is supported by most Democrats and a group of 28 Republicans in labor-heavy districts. The bill comes up for a House floor vote this afternoon.

A senior Republican leadership aide said the president’s veto threat is “helpful” in keeping many pro-labor Republicans from voting for the rule-killing amendment.

“That helps give them cover,” the aide said on the condition of anonymity. “They can tell their constituents that they don’t support this regulation, but they’ve got to fund education, they’ve got to fund health care programs. The president would kill all that with his veto.”

Democrats will also try to strike down a new Labor Department rule that would allow many employers now forced to pay overtime to offer time off instead, but that amendment is expected to draw very little Republican support.

The group of 28 break-away Republicans, who hail from districts with a high number of union members, wrote a letter in April calling on Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to withdraw her mandate that unions fill out a more detailed financial disclosure form.

Kevin Smith, spokesman for Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said “we are more than prepared to defend against” the amendment that would scuttle the new requirements.

“It’s blatant hypocrisy,” Mr. Smith said. “We’ve seen countless union leaders come out after Enron and demand greater accountability from corporate leaders. But when it comes to greater accountability of their own spending practices, they say it’s an attack on unions. It’s completely disingenuous.”

But Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said he still plans to vote for the amendment.

The new disclosure requirements are “construed as a shot at organized labor,” said Mr. King, who represents many blue-collar neighborhoods on Long Island. “These people support the president and this [requirement] needlessly antagonizes them.”

Mr. King predicted that “a good number” of the 28 letter-signing Republicans would stay with their stance, “though I don’t want to speak for them.”

With just a 23-vote edge for Republicans in the House, the amendment would stand a good chance of passage if Mr. King is correct and Democrats unite behind it.

Jessica Incitto, spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, however, said Democrats were being wooed along with the Republicans.

“We’re working hard, but we’re confident we’ve got the votes,” she said.

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