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Senate Committee Cancels Vote on Labor Secretary Nomination

February 6, 2009
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Rep. Hilda Solis will have to wait a while longer for her nomination as the next secretary of labor to come before the full Senate after a committee postponed its vote on her nomination on Thursday, February 5.

USA Today reported Thursday that the California Democrat’s husband had not paid $6,400 in tax liens against his auto repair business until February 4. Some of the penalties had been outstanding for 16 years.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a briefing Thursday that Solis’ nomination is not in jeopardy.

“We reviewed her tax returns and her tax returns are in order,” Gibbs said. “We’re not going to penalize her for her husband’s business mistakes. Obviously, her husband I think has and should pay any taxes that he owes.”

The Solis confirmation process has been stalled since her appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on January 9. Solis refused to state a position on a controversial bill that would make it easier for employees to form a union and did not offer her opinion about right-to-work laws and other policies.

After the hearing, panel Republicans submitted a series of written questions to Solis about the union legislation as well as her service on the board of American Rights at Work, an advocacy organization. Solis had not indicated her position in House financial disclosures, according to published reports.

Solis had apparently answered the follow-up queries from senators, but a committee vote was postponed indefinitely, according to a note posted on the door of the hearing room on Thursday.

The statement, issued jointly by Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, and ranking Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming, said the vote was delayed to give committee members time to “review documentation submitted in support of Representative Solis’ nomination.”

Even if all Republicans on the committee voted against Solis, the Democratic majority would prevail. The committee also could send the nomination to the Senate floor without a vote.

Once Solis is put before the whole Senate, any member could prevent a vote by placing a “hold” on it. But Kennedy and Enzi said that has not happened.

“There are no holds on her nomination, and members on both sides of the aisle remain committed to giving her nomination the fair and thorough consideration that she deserves,” Kennedy and Enzi said. “We will continue to work together to move this nomination forward as soon as possible.”

If Solis gets a Senate vote, she will almost certainly be confirmed. Democrats hold a 58-41 majority, with the results of a Minnesota election still in dispute.

One of the stumbling blocks for Solis centers on a union measure, the Employee Free Choice Act. It would allow a union to form when a majority of workers sign authorization cards and prevent companies from requiring a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

Organized labor’s top legislative priority, the legislation is fiercely opposed by Republicans and business interests. Solis’ sentiment is no mystery. She is a co-sponsor of the bill, as was President Barack Obama when he was in the Senate.

Unions want Congress to act quickly on the measure, which could sharply increase the number of workers covered by collective bargaining units. Currently, about 7 percent of private-sector employees and 12 percent of the overall workforce belong to a union.

Although Solis doesn’t have a long record on employment issues, she has been embraced by organized labor.

In a statement, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney urged the Senate to quickly confirm Solis. He said she would promote training, “green-collar” jobs, wage enforcement, workplace safety and fairness and would be a union champion.

“She understands that working men and women deserve the freedom to choose whether to form a union without employer interference,” Sweeney said.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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