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Beltway Buzz, February 23, 2024
Sunday, February 25, 2024

House and Senate Absent From D.C. While Shutdown Looms. The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate are out this week, and we are once again on the verge of a (partial) government shutdown. If a deal—likely a fourth continuing resolution—isn’t agreed to next week upon the U.S. Congress’s return, a portion of the federal government will shut down on March 1, 2024. Funding for remaining agencies expires a week later, on March 8. Moreover, members of the House Freedom Caucus have increased the pressure on Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) by sending him a letter with a list of policy riders that they insist should be included in a spending bill (which would never be agreed to in the Senate, of course). Remember that spending for the 2024 fiscal year was all supposed to have been wrapped up at the end of September 2023.

Joint-Employer Rule to Become Effective? The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) joint employer rule had been scheduled to go into effect on Monday, February 26, 2024, but yesterday a Texas federal judge issued a two-week stay order pushing back the effective date until March 11 while he considers a lawsuit to permanently block the rule. With another lawsuit challenging the NLRB in Washington, D.C., the rule’s fate is uncertain. Meanwhile, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mike Braun (R-IN) sent a letter to NLRB Chair Lauren McFerran asking the Board to further delay the joint employer rule’s effective date:

We urge the NLRB to grant a further delay in the implementation of the Joint Employer Rule. Doing so will respect the ongoing democratic process in Congress, avoid the complications of implementing a potentially unlawful rule, avoid further confusion, and grant small businesses a reasonable opportunity to prepare for its eventual impact.

Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would rescind the rule, and the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on its CRA measure very soon.

Republican Bill Would Prohibit OT Reg. Changes. Representative Eric Burlison (R-MO) has introduced the Overtime Pay Flexibility Act. While the page counts of many congressional bills will put a strain on your printer, this bill is only one paragraph long. It simply provides that “The Secretary of Labor may not finalize, implement, or enforce the proposed” overtime rule. While the bill stands little chance of getting past the Senate, it represents another (largely Republican) effort to push back against the pending overtime rule, which is currently scheduled to be finalized sometime in April 2024. The Buzz expects further action—such as a repeal effort pursuant to the Congressional Review Act—once the regulation is finalized.

Strikes Up in 2023, But by How Much? On February 21, 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its data on 2023 work stoppage activity. According to the BLS, there were thirty-three major work stoppages in 2023, the most stoppages since 2000 when there were thirty-nine. The BLS defines “major work stoppages” as those involving 1,000 or more workers who are idled—whether due to strike or lockout—for at least one shift during the workweek. However, according to the recently released Labor Action Tracker Annual Report 2023, there were forty-four work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers in 2023. The Labor Action Tracker also tracks strikes and lockouts involving fewer than 1,000 workers and concludes that there were 470 work stoppages (466 strikes and four lockouts) involving approximately 539,000 workers in 2023. While the most accurate answer on 2023 strike activity might be hard to pin down, it is clear that organized labor feels emboldened due to the actions of the current administration and the NLRB.

House Forms Bipartisan Task Force on Artificial Intelligence. On February 20, 2024, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) announced the formation of a bipartisan Task Force on Artificial Intelligence (AI) “to explore how Congress can ensure America continues to lead the world in AI innovation while considering guardrails that may be appropriate to safeguard the nation against current and emerging threats.” The task force, comprised of twelve Democrats and twelve Republicans, “will seek to produce a comprehensive report that will include guiding principles, forward-looking recommendations and bipartisan policy proposals developed in consultation with committees of jurisdiction.” Four members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce will be on the task force—Democrats Suzanne Bonamici (OR) and Haley Stevens (MI), as well as Republicans Michelle Steel (CA) and Eric Burlison (MO)—so the Buzz is hopeful that workplace-related AI issues will be properly addressed.

Dueling Politicians. Following last week’s discussion of physical violence in Congress, this week brings another anniversary of political bloodshed. On February 24, 1838, Representative William Graves of Kentucky shot and killed Representative Jonathan Cilley of Maine in a duel in Bladensburg, Maryland. The dispute arose out of perceived unfair media coverage (an evergreen complaint among even modern politicians) of Democratic President Martin Van Buren by newspaper editor James Watson Webb. On the House floor, Cilley—a Democrat—accused Webb of corruption. Insulted, Webb subsequently convinced his friend and Whig member of Congress Graves to deliver to Cilley a challenge to a duel. When Cilley refused to accept Webb’s letter, Graves interpreted this as an insult to him, and made his own challenge to Cilley. The two members of Congress dueled with rifles, each missing with their first two shots. On the third round, Graves shot Cilley through the femoral artery, and Cilley died within minutes. Amazingly, a subsequent vote to censure Graves failed to pass the House, but nearly one year later, on February 20, 1839, Congress passed legislation outlawing the issuing or accepting of a duel in the District of Columbia, even if the duel itself were to take place outside the District’s borders.

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