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Kline Statement: Hearing on the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Labor

It is always a pleasure to discuss with you the policies of the Department of Labor, which impact countless workplaces and millions of workers across the country. As I’ve said before, it’s the responsibility of this committee to ensure those policies are being administered in a way that best protects the interests of workers and employers, and American taxpayers as well.

This is a responsibility we take seriously, especially at a time when many working families and small businesses are still struggling to get by. There is no question the economy has shown signs of modest improvement, and we certainly welcome every new job that’s created. But there’s also no question many Americans feel they are slipping further behind in an economy that isn’t meeting its full potential.

At an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, former President Bill Clinton referred to the president’s recent State of the Union address and said, “Millions … of people look at that pretty picture of America he painted, and they cannot find themselves in it to save their lives.” We don’t agree on a lot of things, but President Clinton has rightly summed up the frustration many Americans feel.

Month after month, we exceed low expectations, and that simply isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for the tens of millions of workers still sitting on the sidelines; it’s not good enough for the nearly six million Americans who need full-time jobs but can only find part-time work; and it’s not good enough for those families whose incomes remain flat. We need to do better, and there are opportunities to do better. However, those opportunities will be lost if the department continues to push an extreme regulatory agenda.

For example, we both agree federal overtime rules need to be changed. The committee has held numerous hearings with witnesses who testified that these rules are so convoluted that well-meaning, law-abiding employers often get tied up in red tape and run afoul of the law. The overtime rules are also outdated, denying men and women the ability to balance work with their personal or family needs.

We have said repeatedly we want to partner with the department in a serious effort to streamline and modernize overtime protections. Unfortunately, the department is pursuing an approach that will do nothing to provide employers more clarity and certainty. To make matters worse, the department’s proposal will actually stifle workplace flexibility and make it harder for lower-income Americans to move up the economic ladder. These and other consequences will unfold in communities across the country, in local retail stores, small businesses, non-profit organizations, and community colleges. The very places that can least afford it will be hit the hardest.

In addition to overtime, there is also broad, bipartisan agreement we need to strengthen policies governing retirement advice. Of course, there are also strong, bipartisan concerns with the department’s fiduciary proposal. As Dr. Roe suggested at a hearing last year, if we applied the same regulatory regime on the medical profession, patients would have less access to trusted physicians, and the same will be true for those seeking retirement advice.

Because of the rule, many low- and middle-income families will have less access to affordable retirement advice and fewer small businesses will offer retirement plans. Thanks to the hard work of Dr. Roe and others, there is a bipartisan alternative that would protect access to affordable retirement advice and ensure advisors serve their clients’ best interests. This legislation is a strong foundation to address a shared priority if the department will abandon its flawed, partisan proposal.

Mr. Secretary, I strongly encourage you to take a step back and build bipartisan consensus in these and other important areas. The department’s my-way-or-the-highway approach will not deliver the lasting, positive change working families and job creators need to move this country forward. The only way to do that is for the administration to work with members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans. I would also encourage the department to renew its focus where bipartisan consensus has already delivered results, such as workforce development and multiemployer pensions.

The president noted recently the importance of providing new skills to those searching for work, yet the department has failed to implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in a timely manner. A new report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office confirms the consequences of the department’s inaction, and we hope the implementation process will conclude without further delay. Finally, Mr. Secretary, you played an integral role in our efforts to reform the multiemployer pension system. Your continued leadership is needed to solidify the gains we’ve made and to modernize the system for future generations of workers and retirees.

Our success in these areas demonstrates what’s possible when extreme policies are set aside and we work together in good faith toward a common goal. In the coming months, I hope we seize the opportunities we have in order to make a real difference in the lives of America’s workers and employers.