This week in Congress

The big issue confronting Congress is passage of a long-term spending bill. Late Sunday night, the House and Senate announced that a deal had been reached. The deal spends 1.7 trillion dollars and does not contain any spending reductions. Instead, it increases spending on a variety of welfare and warfare programs.

One good feature of the budget is that it does not reinstate cotton's eligibility for Title One farm subsidies (see here for more details). However, the bill instructs the Agricultural Department to "...use all available methods and authorities, including the use of the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act, to provide immediate assistance to these producers until such time as a revised safety net program can be provided.”

In other words, the bill sets up a process to expand government subsidies for cotton and other crops via action by the Agriculture Department and the House Agriculture Committee, which will soon began drafting the next farm bill.

Campaign for Liberty members should call their Representatives and tell them to oppose the budget deal.

Congress will also consider H.R. 1180, which amends federal labor laws to allow employers to offer "flex-time" to employees. Campaign for Liberty has signed a coalition letter to Congress in support of this bill:

Members of Congress:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write in support of the Working Families Flexibility Act (H.R. 1180). The legislation is a positive step toward allowing employers to offer flexible work arrangements that make it easier for workers to achieve a better work-life balance.

The Working Families Flexibility Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act, the primary federal wage and hour law, to expand choices regarding workers’ time. It allows employers to offer employees what is known as compensatory, or “comp,” time, instead of overtime wages. With this legislation, a worker could choose whether to take overtime compensation or receive paid “comp” time, both accruing at 1.5 times overtime hours worked.

Contrary to some criticisms of the bill, the choice to receive overtime pay or comp time is completely voluntary and up to the employee. In addition, employees would be able to cash in their comp time during the year and employers would be required to pay employees for any unused comp time at the end of the year. Importantly, the bill subjects employers to penalties if they attempt to “intimidate, threaten, or coerce” any employee into taking comp as opposed to overtime pay.

Comp time policies are well-established in government employment. In 1985, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to give government employees the option to receive comp time instead of overtime pay. The bill would simply harmonize wage and hour standards in the private and public sector.

This legislation empowers workers by giving them greater control of their own time and how they are compensated. Some workers may prefer to receive overtime pay, while others, especially workers juggling hectic family schedules, may want to accrue more paid time off to spend with their families.

Multiple surveys show that workers greatly value employers that offer flexible work arrangements. We support the Working Families Flexibility Act because it increases workers’ and employers’ workplace flexibility to come up with creative workplace solutions that benefit both parties.


Iain Murray
Vice President for Strategy, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Norm Singleton
President, Campaign for Liberty

Andrew F. Quinlan
President, Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Timothy Lee
Vice President, Center for Individual Freedom

Adam Brandon
President, FreedomWorks

Pete Sepp
President, National Taxpayers Union

Lori Sanders
Associate Vice President, Federal Affairs, R Street Institute

David Williams
President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Campaign for Liberty members should call their Representatives and tell them to vote for H.R. 1180.

Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul supported earlier versions of this legislation. Here is his official statement on the bill from the Congressional Record:

Mr. PAUL. I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of H.R. 1 and in opposition to the Miller amendment. The Miller amendment obviously would negate everything we are trying to do in H.R. 1. One of my favorite bumper stickers simply says "Legalize Freedom.'' I would like to think that is what we are doing here today, is legalizing freedom to some small degree. The workers in the public sector already have this right to use comp time. There is no reason why the workers in the private sector cannot have this same right as well.

The bedrock of a free society is that of voluntary contracts and it is easy for many of those who oppose this bill to understand that voluntary contracts and voluntary associations in personal and social affairs is something that we have to respect. But there is no reason why we cannot apply this to economic affairs as well. A true free society would permit voluntary contracts and voluntary associations in all areas, and it has not always been this way, as it is today, where social liberty and economic liberty are separate. It has only been in the 20th century that we have divided these two, and there is no reason why we cannot look at liberty in an unified manner. Those individuals who want freedom of choice in personal and social affairs should certainly recognize that those of us that believe in economic freedom ought to have those same choices. This great division has occurred and has led to a great deal of confusion in this country. Today, we are making this token effort to relegalize in a very small manner this voluntary contract to allow workers to make a freedom of choice on how they would like to use their overtime, taking the money or using it as comptime. There is no reason why we should prohibit this. It is legal in the public sector. There is no reason why we cannot legalize a little bit of freedom for the worker in the private sector as well.

Mr. Chairman, this act partially restores the right of employees to contract with their employers to earn additional paid time off from work in lieu of overtime pay when the employees works longer than 40 hours in a week. I am pleased to support this bill, as it represents a modest step toward restoring the freedom of contract. Freedom to form employment contracts is simply a branch of the freedom of association, one of the bedrocks of a free society.

In fact, another good name for freedom of contract is freedom of economic association. When persons have the right to associate with whom they choose, they will make the type of agreements that best suit their own unique needs. Any type of Government interference in the freedom of association means people will be forced to adjust their arrangements to satisfy the dictates of Government bureaucrats, For example, even though workers might rather earn compensatory time so they may have more time to spend with their children and spouses then accept paid overtime, the current law forbids them from making such an arrangement. But Congress has decided all Americans are better off receiving overtime pay rather than compensatory time, even if the worker would prefer compensatory time. After all, Congress knows best. The Founders of the country were champions of the rights of freedom of association. Under the U.S. Constitution, the Federal Government is forbidden from interfering in the economic or social contracts made by the people.

As we all know, the first amendment prohibits Congress from interfering with the freedom of association. There is nothing in the history or thought of the Framers to indicate economic association was not given the exact same level of protection as other forms of association. In fact, the emphasis placed by this country's Founders on property and contract rights indicates the Founders wanted to protect economic associations from Government interference as much as any other type of associations. Unfortunately, since the early years of the 20th century, Congress has disregarded the constitutional prohibition on Federal regulation of freedom of economic association, burdening the American people with a wide range of laws controlling every aspect of the employer-employee relationship.

Today, Government presumes to tell employers whom they may hire, fire, how much they must pay, and, most relevant to our debate today, what types of benefits they must offer. Behind these laws is a view of the function of Government quite different from that of the Founders. The Founders believed Government's powers were limited to protecting the liberties of the individual.

By contrast, too many in Congress believe Government must function as parent, making sure citizens don't enter into any contracts of which the national nanny in Washington disapproves. I note with some irony that many of the same Members who believe the Federal Government must restrict certain economic association claim to champion the right of free association in other instances. For example, many of the same Members who would zealously defend the right of consenting adults to engage in voluntary sexual behavior free from State interference. Yet they are denying those some individuals the right to negotiate an employment contract that satisfies these unique needs. Yet the principle in both cases is the same, people should have the right to contract and associate freely with whomever, on whatever terms they choose, they choose without interference from the Central State.

As has been often mentioned in this debate, 75 percent of employees surveyed by the polling firm of Penn & Schoen favored allowing employees to take compensatory time in lieu of overtime. Yet Members of Congress, who not only claim to favor freedom of association but claim to care for the workers, will not allow them the freedom to contract with their employees for compensatory time. What arrogance and hypocrisy. If employees feel that compensatory time would benefit them, and employers, eager to attract the best employees, are willing to offer compensatory time, what right does Congress have to say ``No, you must do it our way?'' Congress has no right to interfere with private, voluntary contracts whether between a husband and wife, a doctor and patient, or an employer or an employee.

Mr. Chairman, it is time to lift the federally imposed burdens on the freedom of association between an employer and employee. As a step in that direction, I will vote for the unamended Working Family Flexibility Act and I call on all my colleagues who support individual liberty and freedom of association to join me in supporting this pro- freedom, pro-worker bill.

The House will also consider bills under suspension of the rules, including:

1. H.R. 910 -- Increases investor access to research prepared by financial firms by creating a "safe harbor" for certain types of research reports covering Exchange Traded funds.

2. H.R. 1312 -- Requires the Securities and Exchange Commission to respond to any findings and recommendations put forth by the SEC’s Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation.

3. H.R. 1366 -- Ensures that investment companies in Puerto Rico, Guam, and elsewhere will operate subject to the same rules as their mainland counterparts, consistent with the SEC’s ability to gather information quickly using modern technology regardless of distance from Washington, D.C. or one of the SEC’s regional offices. This seems like an odd bill since it appears to give SEC more authority and thus does not fit Congress's deregulatory agenda.

4. H.R. 657 -- Provides petition for government employees who refuse an order to violate federal regulations. Seems like a good idea, but why isn't this already in law?

5. H.R. 1644 -- Imposes new sanctions on North Korea. Among other provisions,

The bill requires U.S. financial institutions to ensure that no correspondent accounts are being used by foreign financial institutions to provide financial services indirectly to North Korea.

A foreign government that provides defense articles or services to, or receives from, North Korea is prohibited from receiving certain types of U.S. foreign assistance.

The Department of State shall report to Congress regarding foreign compliance with curtailing North Korea's arms trade.

The Department of Homeland Security may implement enhanced screening of cargo bound for or landed in the United States that: (1) has been transported through a sea port or airport that has repeatedly failed to comply with applicable Security Council resolutions; (2) is aboard a vessel, aircraft, or conveyance that has entered North Korean territory, waters, or airspace, or landed in any of its seaports or airports, within the last 365 days; or (3) is registered by a country whose inspection compliance is deficient.

The Ports and Waterways Safety Act is amended to prohibit any foreign vessel from entering or operating in U.S. waters or transferring cargo in any port under U.S. jurisdiction if such vessel is owned by North Korea or owned or operated on behalf of any country not complying with Security Council resolutions.

Goods produced in whole or part by North Korean labor are prohibited from entering the United States unless U.S. Customs and Border Protection finds that they were not produced with convict, forced, or indentured labor.

The President shall impose U.S. property-based sanctions on foreign persons that employ North Korean forced laborers.

The bill amends the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to authorize the State Department to offer cash rewards for information on violations of North Korean sanctions.

6. H.R. 1665 -- Requires FEMA to take several local impacts into account when considering a disaster declaration.  Ok, but isn't this common sense?

7. H.R. 1679 -- Requires that FEMA's moderation project include:

(1) An online interface, including online assistance, for applicants to complete application forms, submit materials, and access the status of applications.

(2) Mechanisms to eliminate duplication of benefits.

(3) If appropriate, enable the sharing of information among agencies and with State, local, and tribal governments, to eliminate the need to file multiple applications and speed disaster recovery.

(4) Any additional tools the Administrator determines will improve the implementation of this section.

(b) Implementation.—To the extent practicable, the Administrator shall deliver the system capabilities described in subsection (a) in increments or iterations as working components for applicant use.

8. H.R. 1678 -- Extends the statue of limitations for recovery of fraudulent claims for federal disaster relief.

Read Ron Paul on FEMA here. 

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