The Democrats' Other War

Dominating the headlines these days — and indeed virtually since the Democrats’ takeover of the Congress in January — has been news of their views on the prosecution of the war in Iraq. However, largely under the radar of press, public and pundits, the Dems have been prosecuting another multi-front war, this one on the nation’s employers.

You’ll recall from the outset that Pelosi & Company promised a new day, one bereft of partisanship — and an agenda that would focus on the nation’s problems. But their actions have belied their rhetoric. Right out of the gate, their “100 Hours” agenda — a litany of poll-tested bromides — included two corporate broadsides, HR 4 and HR 6.

HR 4 wagged a Congressional finger at “big Pharma”, requiring government negotiation of drug prices. Only problem is, the bill would actually result in government-set prices and fewer choices for people who need these important medicines. We know that because it’s precisely what happened in the EU and at the VA where it was tried. No matter, it made for a good 30-second spot, the stuff that passes for policy in this era of drive-by debates. Big business as the bogeyman. We know how this one ends.

HR 6’s claim to fame was its alleged repeal of tax cuts to “big oil.” But in fact, the bill would only serve to raise prices of domestic energy for business and consumers and drive production offshore, into the hands of reliable enemies of the US like Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Yet another “100 Hours” special was the minimum wage increase. In fact, it does little to help the so-called “working poor” because most minimum wage workers don’t fall into this category, and are not single-earner heads of households. The way out of poverty for all (if anyone cares) is education and skills, but this bill was just another campaign promise which sticks business with the bill. What they hey — it’s easier than fixing the schools.

On global warming, Pelosi has bypassed uber-Chairman John Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House, to create her own panel to strangle our economy more quickly. Dingell’s sin is that he’s just too darned deliberative, too insistent on getting good science and too focused on the economic impact all these “theories,” as he calls them, will have on the folks who create jobs in this country. The new panel will charge ahead without any of this and — you guessed it — stick business with the tab.

Another front in the war was unveiled last week in the Democrats’ budget plan, sunsetting the tax cuts that have enabled investment and growth across manufacturing and business in general. We grew our way out of the recession — indeed out of every recession — through investment and growth. Pulling the plug on these important incentives will make it harder for American business to compete in the world market, another stray bullet in the war on business. The Dems’ plan also reinstates the death tax, a death sentence for many small family-owned businesses.

On the trade front, years of Democratic support for free trade and open markets — championed by Bill Clinton and the 100 Democrats who voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — has begun to erode in the face of blistering rhetoric from the Democrats’ ATM, the AFL-CIO. Traditional free traders like Ways & Means Chair Charlie Rangel are subject to renewed pressure from Speaker Pelosi and others to insert a laundry list of items into trade agreements, from the unions’ long-desired U.S. accession to International Labor Organization rules to signing on to the Kyoto treaty that Al Gore’s Senate rejected 95-0. Never mind that the EU has no such provisions in their trade agreements, there are political bills to be paid, even at the cost of new markets for U.S. products. Once again, business takes it on the chin.

And finally there is the anti-democracy “card check” bill, that will allow unions to bypass elections in the workplace and win recognition through intimidation. This bill — a howler by any rational standard — sailed through the House last month with 241 votes. Bill supporters were the recipients of tens of millions of dollars of union PAC largess.

Emboldened by the effortless passage of this legislation, the unions and their sherpas in the Congress have now piled on with a poisonous trifecta of bills that would expand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), mandate paid sick leave for all but the tiniest of employers and un-do recent and rational NLRB decisions that aligned 19th century notions of labor law with the 21st century workplace.

Taken separately, each of the above bills is a bad idea, and all were uniformly opposed by business as being anti-competitive — or just plain dumb. All were based on populist themes road-tested during the campaign of 2006. Taken together, they will have a deleterious, anti-competitive effect on American business, with the workers as the collateral damage.

But what emerges though all this is a troubling picture, one of a group of Democrats who are at best tone deaf and at worst hostile to the needs and pressures of business. “What’s good for General Motors,” GM Chairman Charlie Wilson famously said in 1955, “Is good for America.” In terms of job creation and business contribution to the growth and wealth of this country, that adage remains true. But the many bills moving in the 110th Congress do real damage to business, some by singling out discrete sectors, and some by impacting business at large. If the new Democrat leadership wants to build an enduring majority — or even to return to power in the 111th Congress — they’d do well to return to the roots of their campaign promises.

Rather than being so beholden to the liberal groups that brung ’em, they ought to be working on solving the nation’s problems. At the end of the day, the solutions will be found by having business at the table as a partner, not as the main course.