- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

With the nomination wrapped up, Sen. John Kerry’s congressional allies will now try to serve as a message echo chamber in the presidential contest. Lacking the votes to pass laws and sensing an opening on the jobs issue, Democrats will hammer away on this economic theme for the foreseeable future — proposing various pieces of their “worker agenda” to a host of legislative vehicles over the next several months.

Yet, talk is cheap and finding long-term solutions to the jobs issues requires more investment than invective. Democrats will try to make their worker agenda “work” for them politically, but economically it deserves a pink slip.

Republican leaders have known for some time that Democrats will offer a series of “message” amendments in both the House and the Senate, including extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, blocking the administration’s overtime-pay flexibility regulations and regulating outsourcing.

Democratswill hammer away on the jobs issue by returning to these four themes using a variety of legislative tactics throughout the year, trying to raise voter doubt and anxiety about the president’s economic policies.

In the House, Democrats will use a procedure known as “motions to recommit.” House rules provide the minority one last bite at the legislative apple by offering such a motion, temporarily sending a bill back to its committee of origin, usually with instructions to make changes and then immediately vote on this amended proposal. Democrats could use this “motion” to offer a provision that, for example, extends unemployment benefits. This motion is normally the last vote before moving to final passage of a measure.

Any piece of economic legislation dealing with jobs and the economy will likely see a motion to recommit incorporating a piece of the worker agenda. Normally “motions to recommit” are procedural, party-line votes. Yet in an age of 30-second ads and in an election year, lawmakers are sometimes caught in a vortex between party loyalty and risking a politically unpopular vote.

Democrats may also use “motions to instruct conferees” as another tactic to push their ideas. These non-binding instructions to the “conferees” (a small group of senators and congressmen charged with reconciling differences between versions of bills) are another way to raise an issue and force a symbolic vote, putting lawmakers on record as for or against a particular proposition.

Both tactical motions are aimed more at scoring communications points than changing substantive law, but they can also create embarrassing political votes. “We fully expect to have our hands full with Democrat motions to recommit and motions to instruct conferees,” a Republican leadership aide told me.

The Senate situation is different, where Democrats may offer their worker agenda as amendments to unrelated pieces of legislation. That body generally does not require germaneness of amendments. There are some exceptions, such as when a unanimous consent agreement stipulates amendments must be germane. Yet, under most circumstances, for example, senators can offer health care amendments to a highway bill.

For the past two months, Senate leaders have wrangled about how and when to allow Democrats to offer non-germane amendments. The regrettable result is a perverse situation where legislation that even has a filibuster-proof 60 vote, such as the class-action reform bill, has stalled because Democrats will not agree to withhold offering unrelated amendments.

In addition to bogging down Congress, the Democratic “worker agenda” will also slow down the economy by adding a host of new costs to small- and medium-size businesses. Interestingly, the policies that create a better environment for jobs — lowering health care and other costs through tort reform, cutting taxes, creating more export opportunities through trade promotion and calling for higher standards and accountability in education, are the same policies Democrats oppose. “Both in terms of policy and procedure, they are making it harder for business and Congress to succeed — it’s an interesting parallel,” a senior administration official observed. “Their ideas amount to symbolic complaints, instead of constructive solutions.”

Current economic trends are scary for many Americans. Globalization and productivity gains also raise a host of new worker anxieties. Yet increasing competitiveness and creating new high-paying jobs are the result of trade, tax, education and health care measures that most Democrats oppose. Making it more expensive and complicated to do business in the United States is a sure recipe for job loss. Quick fixes, like fad diets, prey on some of the lesser angels of human nature. Forcing votes on politically charged amendments might create useful sound bites, but won’t create any new jobs.

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