- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

President Obama’s nominee for the top legal job at the Labor Department won a key committee vote Wednesday, but a Republican senator vowed to delay the confirmation on the Senate floor over what he called a “lack of candor” by New York Commissioner of Labor M. Patricia Smith during confirmation hearings.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, ranking Republican of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, announced he will place a hold on Ms. Smith’s nomination after the committee voted 13-10 along party lines to send Ms. Smith’s nomination as labor solicitor, the No. 3 post in the department, to the Senate floor.

Republicans contend that Ms. Smith gave incomplete or misleading testimony about a first-of-its-kind program she launched in New York earlier this year called “Wage Watch.” The program enlisted unions and other advocacy groups to visit private businesses and report on wage violations to the government.

While Ms. Smith called the program an educational tool in her Senate testimony, Republican aides obtained e-mails in which New York regulators referred to groups participating in the program as “enforcers.”

Republicans also raised questions about Ms. Smith’s assertion that the program was “internally crafted” within the New York Department of Labor. Internal e-mails obtained by the aides showed one New York labor leader was trading messages with Ms. Smith’s deputies about key details on the wage-watch program months before she began the initiative.

Democrats and unions have defended the nominee, arguing that she did not mislead lawmakers and that responsibility for the wage program largely rested with one of her deputies, according to records. Supporters say that, as New York’s top labor regulator, Ms. Smith cracked down on minimum-wage and overtime legal violations.

“America’s workers desperately need a champion to fight rampant labor law violations in this country,” Teamsters President James Hoffa said Tuesday, rallying support for the nomination. “Patricia Smith is that champion. She has demonstrated her ability to protect low-wage workers against unscrupulous employers.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the HELP Committee, said through a spokeswoman that Ms. Smith will be “an outstanding solicitor at the Department of Labor.”

“She has a deep knowledge of labor issues and an exemplary record of public service on behalf of working families,” he said.

After the committee vote Wednesday, Mr. Enzi said the nomination “brings me great concern” and a “lack of confidence regarding her ability to run the solicitor’s office.”

“This breach of trust cannot be brushed aside by claiming the questions involve a pilot program or that the responsibility rests solely with her deputy,” he said.