Leading Off Congress with Labor, Trial Lawyer Legislation

No point in feigning dismay or shock at the decision of House leadership to launch the 111th Congress with two pieces of legislation that were backed by core Democratic constituencies and fundraisers — organized labor, trial lawyers and activist women’s groups: H.R. 11, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and H.R. 12, the Paycheck Fairness Act. (Both bills are on the House floor today or tomorrow.) Elections have consequences, and especially given labor’s demands for action on the anti-democratic Employee Free Choice Act — the SEIU plans to spend $85 million to push its passage! — you can understand the two bills as a signal to the unions to be patient, we know you’re there, just hang on, buddy.

But even as the nations struggles with the recession, we wonder at the signal it sends to the business community and the public at large. Last weekend Congressional leadership conceded passage of a stimulus package by January 20th, inaugural day, would be too big of practical challenge, but clearly responding to the economy ranks No. 1 as a legislative challenge. So the question is, how does making employers subject to flood of new lawsuits tied to employment, adding potential costs to the hiring of new employees, stimulate the economy? H.R. 12 allows punitive damages and lifts the lid on economic damages in gender discrimination lawsuits. We can see how that stimulates the trial lawyers, but does it do anything other than discourage private-sector employment?

No dismay or shock. But lots of confusion trying to reconcile the two messages: It’s the economy, stupid, but don’t hire any new employees unless you want to get sued.


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