Friday, October 28, 2005

The Politics Behind The Davis Bacon Wage Reversal

Harold Meyerson enlightens us a bit about why Republican moderates joined Congressman George Miller (D-CA) to pressure the President into lifting the suspension of Davis-Bacon wage supports for Gulf Workers earlier this week:
Earlier this week, the leaders of their hitherto-raison-d’etre-less alliance, the Republican Mainstream Partnership, told Andy Card that they could not support the president’s suspension of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, which guarantees the payment of prevailing wages on federally-funded construction jobs, for post-Katrina reconstruction efforts. On Wednesday, the administration announced that it would end that suspension on November 8.

The moderates’ hand was forced by George Miller, the veteran San Francisco Democrat, who had uncovered an obscure parliamentary provision that enables congressmen to force a vote on rescinding statutes that a president suspends. With the unified support of the Democratic caucus, Miller had done just that, and Congress would have had to vote on the week of November 7 on his bill rescinding Bush’s action. The maneuver solidified Miller’s standing as a worthy successor to his long-ago mentor, the late San Francisco Congressman Phil Burton, by common consent the most effective liberal legislator of the past half-century.

Miller’s motion put Republican moderates in a bind. Disproportionately hailing from such states as New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio, they still represent sizable numbers of union members. Worse yet, those union members most likely to vote for them come disproportionately from the (still mainly white, male) building trades -- the very unions Bush’s order was intended to hurt. A number of these members are frequently endorsed by the building trades locals in their districts, and the prospect of the trades on the warpath against them in 2006 was one they were eager to avoid. “Why pick this fight?” New York Republican Peter King wondered aloud in The New York Times.
The Wall St. Journal, on the other hand, was not at all pleased with the spectre of Republican moderates standing up to their President:
We're told yesterday's decision to reinstate Davis-Bacon in the affected Gulf states on November 8 came after a meeting last week between Chief of Staff Andrew Card and about 20 Republican Congressmen from union-heavy districts. The move can only increase the cost and slow the pace of reconstruction. And as an act of unprincipled political calculation it ranks right up there with the decision to impose tariffs on imported steel during Mr. Bush's first term.