Lauren Smith

House GOP Seems Eager to Pass Student Loan Plan

The student loan interest rate legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate appears to face a clear path in the House, where Republicans wasted no time pointing out that the proposal closely mirrors their original plan.

The office of House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, blasted out an email before the Senate vote noting the similarities between the bipartisan Senate compromise and the House bill (HR 1911) passed in May. Both shift from a fixed interest rate to variable, market-based rates pegged to the 10-year Treasury note, similar to what President Barack Obama proposed in his fiscal 2014 budget.

ENDA Has Been Waiting 2 Decades for Passage

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been pending in Congress for two decades. Here is a look at the key turning points in the legislative history.

Momentum Bolsters Workplace Discrimination Bill

In June, several lawmakers received a visit from Kristin Beck, a Florida native who, after serving for more than 20 years as a male U.S. Navy SEAL, recently revealed her identity as a transgender woman.

She was at the Capitol to talk about workplace discrimination among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, specifically to lobby on behalf of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that was dormant in the Senate for 17 years after being defeated on the floor by one vote in 1996.

Student Loan Rates Likely to Double With No Congressional Agreement in Sight

With immigration center stage and a bipartisan agreement to stave off the student loan interest rate hike nowhere in sight, principal negotiators on both sides conceded Tuesday that rates will likely double on July 1 and will need to be fixed retroactively.

“We probably can’t get anything done this week,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said. “We’re working on it, but there has been no agreement so far.

Senate Duo Punches Time Clock on Job-Training Bill

Bipartisan negotiations to overhaul federal job-training programs are picking up again, with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., hoping to usher a bill through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before the August recess.

“We don’t have a set timeline yet,” said a labor policy staffer for Isakson, who noted that HELP Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and ranking member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have indicated that Isakson and Murray should “have something to move here this summer.”

N.C. Workforce Board Uses Innovative Approach to Job-Training Programs

Charlotte Works, the workforce board for the Charlotte area of North Carolina, knew it needed to try something different when Siemens Energy approached the panel in 2010 looking to hire skilled workers for 1,000 newly created machinist, welding and mechanical assembly jobs.

So with the help of Siemens and Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte Works developed an online screening tool that allowed the energy company to sift through thousands of résumés in an efficient way along with coordinated training programs that together revolutionized the workforce board’s ability to help not just Siemens, but also other employers in the area, find the talent they are looking for.

As Clock Ticks, Senate Plans Student Loan Test Votes

With federal student loan interest rates set to double on July 1, Congress returns from recess facing a familiar partisan brawl with no quick resolution in sight.

“This sounds like déjà vu all over again,” President Barack Obama joked at a Rose Garden rally on the issue Friday, surrounded by college students. “That’s because it is. We went through this last summer.”

Job Corps Hits Turning Point Under Congress' Watch

A banner typed across the front page of the Job Corps website in bold red letters reads, “Attention! Job Corps is enrolling students again!”

That’s welcome news for the nearly 10,000 low-income and at-risk students who have been turned away since January, when the education and job-training program announced that because of a funding shortfall it would immediately halt enrollment.

Sounding the Alarm on Job Corps' Woes

For Anand Vimalassery, watching Job Corps’ finances spiral out of control has been more than frustrating. After all, he spent the better part of a year trying to warn the Labor Department that the program — which offers students ages 16-24 free education or training to learn a career, earn a high school diploma or equivalency degree, and find and keep a good job — was headed for a serious funding shortfall.

Vimalassery is responsible for policy development and outreach to the Labor Department and administration at the National Job Corps Association, which represents the contractors that operate Job Corps centers as well as federal agencies, unions and community colleges that partner with job centers.

GOP Effort Against Labor Nominee Gains Steam

The Republican campaign against Labor Secretary nominee Thomas E. Perez picked up serious momentum Wednesday, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Marco Rubio both raised strong objections.

McConnell signaled in a floor speech that he might oppose Perez, calling him “a committed ideologue who appears willing, quite frankly, to say or do anything to achieve his ideological ends.”

House GOP Needles Labor Nominee on Eve of Senate Committee Vote

With a Senate committee vote set for Wednesday on the nomination of Thomas E. Perez for Labor secretary, House Republicans convened a joint hearing Tuesday to examine a whistle-blower case that GOP lawmakers have been using as ammunition against him.

The witnesses at the House hearing included Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, two Republicans who have been highly critical of Perez, currently the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Backers Hope Paid-Sick-Leave Laws Are Contagious

When Wanda Cobbs’ two children fell ill for an extended period this winter due to complications from their Type I diabetes, the decision to stay home to care for them came more easily than it had in the past. Thanks to a Connecticut law that took effect last year, Cobbs, a school bus driver for the West Hartford public schools system, had access to paid sick leave for the first time.

“It was hard because you didn’t have anything to fall back on,” Cobbs said about previous decisions to stay home with her sick children. “You just had to lose that time from work and not be paid for it.”

Group Is at the Forefront of Paid-Sick-Leave Effort

The National Partnership for Women and Families in 2004 began its push for paid sick leave when it launched its “Campaign for Paid Sick Days,” and played an integral role two years later in helping San Francisco secure the first-ever ordinance mandating paid sick days in the United States.

“We are the hub of both coordination and activity on this,” said Vicki Shabo, the group’s director of work and family programs. “We help to connect grass-roots and national organizations.”

Vitter Vows to Block Perez Nomination for Labor Secretary

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced Monday that he will block President Barack Obama’s nominee for Labor secretary, Thomas E. Perez, until he receives more information about Perez’s enforcement of a federal voting law as the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The announcement, made less than two hours after Obama nominated Perez to lead the Labor Department, indicates that another of the president’s high-level nominees could face a protracted confirmation fight in the Senate this year. Obama’s choices to lead the Pentagon and CIA, Chuck Hagel and John O. Brennan, also faced strong Republican opposition — including filibusters — before ultimately being confirmed.

Grassley Raises Objections to Obama's Potential Labor Secretary Nominee

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, fired a preemptive warning shot to the White House over the weekend in response to media reports that President Barack Obama intends to nominate Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, as the next Labor secretary.

As ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley is spearheading a GOP investigation into an alleged deal that the Justice Department struck with the city of St. Paul, Minn., in which the city withdrew from a Supreme Court lending discrimination case in exchange for the federal government agreeing not to join a pair of housing-related False Claims Act lawsuits against the city that were instigated by a whistle-blower. Republicans contend the suits had the potential of returning more than $180 million in damages to the Treasury.

Republicans Face Test in Upcoming Vote on Renewing Domestic Violence Law

House Republican leaders may need every vote they can get this week when they bring to the floor a five-year reauthorization of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

The Senate passed its renewal of the law (S 47) on a bipartisan 78-22 vote on Feb. 12. But in the House, Democrats and Republicans are sharply divided over whether the chamber should take up the Senate bill or a considerably narrower and more contentious substitute introduced by House leaders late last week.

The Next Jobs Bill Will Focus on Training Programs

After an election focused heavily on jobs, the House is poised to move quickly on a long-stalled overhaul of federal job-training programs. But hope for finally breaking through the gridlock appears to hinge on bipartisan negotiations quietly under way in the Senate.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, which expired in 2003, needs updating. Pressure to reauthorize the law mounted after a 2011 Government Accountability Office analysis found that many of the 47 federal job-training programs overlap in some way.

Cantor Pledges Domestic Violence Law Is an Early House Priority

With the Senate poised to pass a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Wednesday vowed that the bill is a priority in his chamber, as well.

Efforts to reconcile the two chambers’ versions of the legislation authorizing domestic violence programs broke down at the end of the previous Congress. But Democratic proponents have been hopeful that because women voters overwhelmingly favored Democrats in November’s elections, Republicans would come around on some of the points of contention in VAWA early this year.

Supreme Court Asked to Consider Obama Recess Appointments

The issue of President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board is now before the Supreme Court, as a nursing home company Monday asked the court to block a board order. This provides the first opportunity for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of the recess appointments, which a lower court invalidated in a separate case Jan. 25.

The emergency application to the Supreme Court was filed by HealthBridge, which is involved in a dispute with the NLRB over an ongoing strike at its nursing home centers in Connecticut.

Republicans Call for NLRB to Shut Down in Wake of Court Ruling on Appointees

Senate Republicans won an important victory over President Barack Obama on Friday, when a federal appeals court ruled that his appointments to the National Labor Relations Board a year ago were unconstitutional. GOP lawmakers quickly responded by calling for the appointees to resign and for the board to shut down.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 3-0 that Obama overstepped his constitutional authority when he made three appointments to the NLRB while the Senate was on a holiday break in January 2012.