patricia smithHarry Reid filed for cloture for the nomination of Patricia Smith to be the Department of Labor’s Solicitor, or lead lawyer. The vote will take place on Monday and require 60 Senators to pass.

Patricia Smith was nominated in April and had a hearing in May, but has since been held up by the Senate HELP committee’s ranking Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming. Thomas Frank writes in WSJ about Enzi’s hold:

What Mr. Enzi claims to find intolerable about Ms. Smith is the way she has described New York’s “Wage Watch” program, which encourages employees to report labor law violations. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Mr. Enzi claimed there were “four significant inconsistencies between Ms Smith’s statements” and documents describing the program. One of which—prepare yourself—concerns just who came up with the idea for the program. Ms. Smith originally said it was somebody in her department, but later she allowed that one of her lieutenants may have gotten the idea from someone who didn’t work for the department. Woe betide those who get their ideas from others!

Mr. Enzi characterizes Ms. Smith’s mistakes as damning errors, but the real issue is regulation, and government’s willingness to enforce it. We now know that it wasn’t a good idea to defund and demoralize the agencies that were supposed to supervise the financial industry, but the lesson should go much deeper than that. The late Bush administration practiced regulatory euthanasia all across Washington, and the consequences have been felt in every corner of the economy. […]

Yet the menace of outreach is why conservatives objected to the “Wage Watch” program even before they decided that the real problem was Ms. Smith’s statements. It was a dangerous scheme, Mr. Enzi’s office asserted in a statement quoted by Crain’s New York Business; a program that would “endow union organizers and community activist groups like ACORN with vigilante power.”

Indeed, Smith has been an incredibly effective regulator in New York State, cracking down on wage and hour violations and better enforcing the state’s labor laws. It’s that very effectiveness that scares Enzi and conservatives into holding Smith’s nomination. Pat Garofalo writes at the Wonk Room about Smith’s successes:

The New York Times has called Smith “one of the nation’s foremost labor commissioners because of her vigorous efforts to crack down on minimum wage and overtime violations at businesses including restaurants, supermarkets, car washes and racetracks.” During her time with the New York State Labor Department, where she is labor commissioner, Smith helped win more than $20 million in back pay for thousands of low-wage workers, including a record $2.3 million settlement with the owner of Ollie’s Noodle Shop and Grill chain in Manhattan.

As David Madland and Karla Walter pointed out, “too often penalties [for labor law violations] are easily reduced or levied for low amounts, and the solicitor’s office has minimized civil and criminal liability for the worst violators.” Smith can change that, if only her nomination could come to a vote.

Check back here on Monday for news and analysis of the vote.

Michael Whitney

Michael Whitney

My name is Michael Whitney. I'm a progressive online organizer working with FDL Action. Rush Limbaugh called me "clueless" once. He went into rehab two days later.