Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on April 25, 2017
Mr. President, later this afternoon the Senate will vote on the President's nomination of Alexander Acosta to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Mr. Acosta has excellent credentials and is well qualified for the position. He understands that a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families.
After immigrating to the United States from Cuba, Mr. Acosta's parents worked hard to create more opportunities for their son. Alexander Acosta became the first person in his family to go to college, and from there he has had quite an impressive career.
He has already been confirmed by the U.S. Senate three different times: He served as a Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board, he served as Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Mr. Acosta's most recent role was serving as dean of Florida International University's law school. The school's president told the Miami Herald recently, “Alex has a destiny in public service. He's a person of integrity, conscientious, thoughtful, he doesn't overreach.”
On March 22, Mr. Acosta had a hearing in the Senate labor committee that lasted two and a half hours. Following his hearing, he answered 380 follow-up questions for the record—604 questions if you count the sub-questions. Then, on March 30, our committee approved Mr. Acosta's nomination, readying the nomination for consideration by the full Senate.
I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a list of 140 groups, which includes business groups and labor unions, which support Mr. Acosta's nomination.
Mr. President, the supporters include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Association of Manufacturers, the International Franchise Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the American Beverage Association.
Here are some examples of what these groups had to say about Mr. Acosta. The International Franchise Association said, “Franchise owners around the country are facing a great deal of regulatory uncertainty as a result of the wreckage created by the previous administration's out-of-control Department of Labor. Mr. Acosta's exemplary record handling labor issues as a member of the NLRB has shown the appropriate balance needed to protect the interests of employees and employers.”
The National Federation of Independent Business said, “Alexander Acosta is an experienced public servant with a distinguished record. His knowledge of labor issues and his service as U.S. Attorney make him an especially strong candidate to take on the entrenched bureaucracy, which has imposed unbelievably severe and costly regulations on small business in the recent years.”
The National Retail Federation said, “Mr. Acosta's diverse experiences in both public service and the private sector position him well to be an effective and pragmatic leader at the Department of Labor.”
Why is this nomination so important? In his new book, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman uses the term “Great Acceleration” for all of the technological, social, environmental, and market changes simultaneously sweeping across the globe and argues that we are now “living through one of the greatest inflection points in history” as a result. Add Ball State University's finding that automation is responsible for the loss of 88 percent of our manufacturing jobs. Add globalization. Add social, cultural, climate changes, and terrorism, and you get a big mismatch between the change of pace and the ability of the average American worker to keep up and fit in the accelerating forces shaping the workplace.
Earlier this year, after a group of senators listened to a group of scientists talk about the advances in artificial intelligence, one Senator asked, “Where are we all going to work?”
Tom Friedman says that probably the most important governance challenge is a great need “to develop the learning systems, training systems, management systems, social safety nets, and government regulations that would enable citizens to get the most out of these accelerations and cushion their worst impacts.”
One of the federal government's chief actors in this drama should be the U.S. Secretary of Labor. In fact, as many have suggested and the House of Representatives has done, the title of the job for which Alexander Acosta has been nominated should be changed to the Secretary of Workforce, not Secretary of Labor.
Labor union membership in the private sector today is down to less than 7 percent. The issue for workers today is not whether they belong to a union. It is whether they have the skills to adapt to the changing workplace and to find and keep a job. To be accurate, to create and keep a job. My generation found jobs. This generation is more likely to have to create their own jobs.
In his inaugural address, President Trump said he heard “forgotten men and women'' who are struggling to keep up and fit into today's changing world: “For too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” That is what President Trump said in his inaugural address.
Ten days earlier, in his farewell address, President Obama said he, too, heard those same voices: “Too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind. If we don't create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.” That was President Obama.
What can we do about this? The most important thing is to work with employers and community colleges and technical institutes and find ways to increase the number of Americans earning post-secondary certificates and two-year degrees or more.
Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce says that by 2020—3 years from now—65 percent of the jobs in this country will require some college or more. And at the rate we are going, Georgetown predicts the United States will lack 5 million workers with an adequate post-secondary education by 2020.
Unfortunately, too many of the federal government's actions over the last few years have made it harder for American workers to keep up, to adjust to the changing world, and to create, find, or keep a job.
President Obama's Department of Labor issued 130 percent more final rules than the previous administration's labor department. Overall, the Obama Administration issued an average of 85 major rules. These are rules that may have an impact of $100 million or more a year on the economy. Eighty-five major rules a year. President Bush, on the other hand, averaged about 62 a year. That is a 37-percent increase under President Obama.
Take the overtime rule. In my state, its costs would add hundreds of dollars per student in college tuition and it would force small businesses across the country to reduce the jobs that provide the stability that families need. This rule has been delayed by the courts until at least June 30th of this year.
Take the so-called joint employer policy. This is a policy that affects franchising and makes it more likely that a parent company will own and operate its stores instead of allowing franchisees to own and operate those stores. A Republican majority at the National Labor Relations Board can start undoing the damage caused by this harmful decision.
Then, there is the fiduciary rule, which is going to make it too expensive for the average worker to obtain investment advice about retirement benefits—again making it harder, not easier, to adjust to the changing world of work. The Department of Labor under the Trump administration has delayed this rule for 60 days, until June 9, 2017. Some parts of the rule are delayed until January 1, 2018.
One rule after another from the Obama administration has stacked a big wet blanket of costs and time-consuming mandates on job creators, causing them to create fewer jobs.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's EEO-1 form will require employers to provide to the government 20 times as much information as they do today about how they pay workers. Earlier this month, the Senator from Kansas, Senator Pat Roberts, and I asked the Office of Management and Budget to rescind this time-wasting mandate.
There is the ridiculously complex 108-question FAFSA, the federal aid application form that 20 million families fill out every year as students go to college. It turns away from college many of the very students who most need to adjust to this changing world.
The Affordable Care Act defined full-time work as only 30 hours, forcing employers to cut their workers' hours or reduce hiring altogether in order to escape the law's mandate and its unaffordable penalties.
Many of these rules, like the persuader rule, which chills the ability of employers to retain legal advice during union organizing activities, seemed designed for the purpose of strengthening the membership and the power of labor unions.
We are fortunate to have a nominee in Mr. Acosta who can use his good judgment to reevaluate labor policies that make it much harder to create jobs and to find jobs.
We know that Mr. Acosta has support from members of both political parties, and that raises a question for me: Why did the Senate yesterday have to vote to invoke cloture on Mr. Acosta's nomination? The vote was bipartisan, with 61 senators voting to end debate so Mr. Acosta could have had an up or down vote. He could have been approved by majority vote yesterday. That has been the tradition in the U.S. Senate for 230 years. There never has been a Cabinet member denied his or her position by requiring them to get more than 51 votes. There have been some cloture votes for delay or to take some extra time, but no one has ever been denied the position by requiring more than 51 votes.
During most of the 20th century, when one party controlled the White House and the Senate seventy percent of the time, the minority never filibustered to death a single presidential nominee. The practice in the Senate since the Senate's beginning has been that the President nominates and the Senate decides by majority vote whether to approve the nomination. Why are we having these cloture votes? We are getting into more and more of a difficult situation with these votes. It is a bad habit and both sides, Republicans and Democrats, have caused the problem.
During the Obama administration, over the 8 years, there were 173 cloture votes on nominations, and I voted to invoke cloture 41 of those times. For 10 of those nominees, I voted to end debate so that their nomination could have an up or down vote even though I opposed their confirmation.
No one has ever disputed our right in the Senate, regardless of who was in charge, to use our constitutional duty of advice and consent to delay and examine, sometimes causing nominations to be withdrawn or even defeating nominees by a majority vote.
What I would like to suggest today is that if we continue the trend of requiring cloture votes on presidential nominees—cabinet members and others—that may work fine as long as we have a president and a Senate of the same political party, but if we have a president and a Senate of different political parties and everybody has become accustomed to voting no on cloture, to requiring a cloture vote and voting no, the Senate may never be able to confirm any cabinet members or any sub-cabinet members when the Senate and the president are of different political parties.
I would suggest to my friends on the other side of the aisle that the Senate is a body of precedent, and I think it would be wise for us to stop and think, as we proceed, about whether it is wise to require cloture votes for presidential nominees. Why don't we simply go ahead and approve them or not approve them by majority vote?
We have an excellent nominee in Mr. Acosta. We are fortunate that someone of his intelligence and experience is willing to serve as our U.S. Secretary of Labor. I look forward to voting for and to the Senate approving his confirmation later today.