WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 18, 2016
Today, the committee will consider two proposals as part of our ongoing efforts to promote responsible solutions to the challenges facing the American people.
First, we will consider a resolution to promote fair union elections by blocking the Department of Labor’s “persuader” rule. Over the years, I have often described federal labor policies as a pendulum that swings back and forth each time there is a change in political leadership in the White House. However, few could have anticipated the radical swing that has taken place under this administration.
In recent years, the administration has adopted ambush union elections that stifle employer free speech and worker free choice, rolled back disclosure rules that promote union transparency and accountability, restricted workers’ access to secret ballot elections, encouraged the spread of micro unions, and threatened to upend countless small businesses through an expansive new joint employer standard.
We are told time and again this extreme agenda will spur the economy and grow the middle class. Yet despite all the significant changes that have been imposed on our workplaces, wages remain stagnant and good-paying, full-time jobs are still hard to come by. Unfortunately, as President Reagan once said, the more the plans fail, the more the planners plan.
The latest scheme concocted by the Department of Labor is the persuader rule. This new rule abandons nearly 60 years of settled labor policies by forcing employers to disclose virtually any contact with outside legal advisors on union-related matters. This is not a minor change to federal policies, nor is it meant to provide greater transparency. The goal is to chill the right of employers to seek legal counsel, and in the process, chill their right to speak to employees on union matters.
Small businesses will bear the brunt of this regulation. They will have less access to the advice they need to navigate a host of complex labor rules and less opportunity to communicate with employees on issues facing their workplaces. But make no mistake, it’s workers who stand to lose the most. This rule will make it harder for workers to make informed decisions on issues that directly impact the health and economic well-being of their families.
I want to thank Representative Byrne for introducing this resolution. As an attorney who spent years practicing labor law, he knows better than most the challenges this rule will create for employers and employees. I’ve said repeatedly Congress should not stand by while the administration wreaks havoc on working families and small businesses, and this resolution is an appropriate response to a rule that would do just that.
The second proposal we will consider today will help improve child nutrition assistance. A lot has changed since these programs were last reauthorized in December 2010. Those who were here then will recall that a massive expansion of the federal role in child nutrition was jammed through Congress in the final days of the Democrat Majority. What had always been a bipartisan issue, descended into a partisan one.
At the time, state and school leaders warned about the negative consequences this expansive approach would inflict on their communities and schools, and those warnings have come true. The rules stemming from the 2010 law have resulted in billions of dollars in new costs while student participation has declined dramatically. The vast majority of schools may be in compliance with these new rules, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy or without cost or that it’s having its desired effect.
This legislation promises a more responsible approach. The bill includes reforms that will strengthen the WIC program, help rein in waste, fraud, and abuse, and provide more flexibility to states to better serve families during the summer months. I want to applaud Representative Rokita, the chairman of the K-12 subcommittee, for introducing the legislation. I know he will describe in greater detail the reforms in the bill; however, I want to discuss two important areas.
The first area is standards. The legislation requires the Department of Agriculture to review every three years federal meal pattern and nutrition standards. This review must be based on sound science and include the participation of school leaders. Any resulting standards must reflect the needs of all students and not result in higher costs or fewer students being served.
The health and science communities are constantly expanding—and changing—our understanding of nutrition. In fact, Politico recently reviewed the “shifting science on sodium,” and highlighted a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found the government’s recommended sodium levels may increase the risk of death. If experts in the field are changing their views on nutrition, federal standards should change as well.
The second area I want to touch on is community eligibility, which allows federal dollars to subsidize students who are not eligible for assistance. When that happens, we have fewer resources for those who truly need help. That’s why the bill makes a modest change to this provision to better target taxpayer resources, while ensuring every child who is eligible for assistance can receive assistance.
Because of this and other commonsense reforms, we are able to increase the federal reimbursement in the breakfast program. This is the first time in more than 25 years schools will receive a greater reimbursement in the breakfast program—making sure the neediest kids
don’t start their day hungry—and we do it at no additional cost to taxpayers. That’s what’s possible when we make smart investments in these programs.
I challenge my colleagues to ask your school leaders if they would welcome greater flexibility in these programs; ask them whether they would welcome a seat at the table when it comes to the standards imposed on their schools; and ask them if they would welcome more federal support in serving a healthy breakfast to their students.
Providing all children access to healthy meals is a vital priority of both Republicans and Democrats. Children cannot succeed in the classroom if they are hungry or malnourished. That’s why I urge my colleagues to help improve our investment in child nutrition assistance by supporting this legislation.