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NLRB: White House Muzzled Us In Budget Debate

Obama

First Posted: 03/09/11 11:08 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- When House Republicans targeted the budget of the National Labor Relations Board last month, the agency shot back, warning that such cuts would force it to largely cease operations for an extended period of time, creating a backlog of thousands of cases.

It was one of the few counterattacks from the Obama administration, which was otherwise busy proposing its own cuts and endorsing the Republican call for slashing spending -- and it didn't last long. The White House demanded that the NLRB scrub the statement defending the agency from its website, an NLRB spokesperson told The Huffington Post.

The link to the statement, issued Feb. 18, can still be found on the website, under the heading: "Top NLRB officials respond to House budget proposal." But click through and a new statement, dated Feb. 22, appears: "The content in this statement has been removed. For further information on this subject, please see the President's Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) regarding the budget, which can be found on the OMB website."

The Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House, reached out to the NLRB and told the agency to back off and take down the statement, according to the NLRB spokesperson.

OMB spokeswoman Meg Reilly said it is the job of the White House to comment on legislation. "Administration positions on proposed legislation are provided by the White House," Reilly told HuffPost in a statement in response to the NLRB charge. "However, Agencies are welcome to work with members of the public, press and Congress to provide factual information about implications of proposed legislation."

Reilly said that the White House had already made its position clear on the House Republican budget proposal. "In the case of H.R. 1, the President has stated that it is not something he would sign as it's currently written. But we're confident that we can work with both sides of the aisle to craft a compromise that cuts spending without undermining our economic recovery."

Both Reilly and the NLRB spokesperson said that the OMB had earlier sent around guidance to all agencies advising that they not comment, instead allowing the White House to speak for the entire administration.

The White House pushback against the NLRB would sound familiar to Wisconsin demonstrators. The Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America, the group that is a remnant of Obama's '08 campaign operation, initially got strongly behind the pro-labor protests. But after the GOP criticized the White House for its involvement, an administration spokesman told The New York Times that "the White House had done nothing to encourage the demonstrations in Wisconsin," as paraphrased by reporter Jackie Calmes.

"This is a Wisconsin story, not a Washington one," Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, told Calmes. "False claims of White House involvement are attempts to distract from the organic grassroots opposition that is happening in Wisconsin."

Before the NLRB statement was taken down, Washington Post labor columnist Harold Meyerson used a piece of it in his column connecting the funding attack on the NLRB to the effort to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers in Wisconsin. "In a statement last Friday, NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman and Chief Counsel Lafe Solomon wrote that it would require the board to furlough all of its 1,665 employees for 55 days between now and the end of the fiscal year. They estimated that it would increase by 18,000 the backlog of cases before the board," Meyerson wrote.

Reilly, the OMB spokeswoman, said that all federal agencies were asked to allow the White House to respond to the budget cuts rather than responding themselves. But on Tuesday, the administration came under fire from a Democratic senator who gave voice to rising concern that the White House is refusing to engage Republicans over budget cuts.

"Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations -- our president -- has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?" Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Manchin is up for reelection in 2012 and is considered one of the Senate's most conservative Democrats. But liberals are unhappy with the president's lack of leadership on the issue, as well. "I would hope that the president does engage in this important discussion," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on C-Span Wednesday morning when asked about Manchin's charge.

The GOP attempt to defund the NLRB is just one front in a campaign against the agency. The NLRB is handling at least four challenges from Republican lawmakers questioning the agency's decision-making, enforcement and advertising policies.

While the NLRB took its self-defense down from its website, it remains cached in Google. Below is the statement scrubbed by the White House:

Top NLRB officials respond to House budget proposal

The House of Representatives is expected to vote today or tomorrow on a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government for the remainder of FY 2011. National Labor Relations Board Chairman Wilma B. Liebman and Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon issued the following statement on the impact of that proposal:

"The House of Representatives is expected to soon vote on a funding proposal that contains drastic cuts to several federal agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board. The proposal would eliminate $50 million from this small administrative agency, or 18% of its total annual budget. Because the reduction would be squeezed into the final 7 months of the fiscal year, the cuts would be felt even more deeply - representing the equivalent of one-third of remaining 2011 funding.

Nearly all of the agency's budget is spent on salaries and rents; there are no programs to eliminate or postpone. The only way to meet this extreme and immediate reduction would be to furlough all of the NLRB's 1,665 employees for 55 workdays, or nearly three months, between now and the end of September. The great majority of these employees work far from Washington D.C., in 51 local offices, where every NLRB case begins. The economic impact of this cut would be felt by families and communities in 33 states.

If enacted, the House proposal could force the NLRB to curtail all agency operations, including investigating alleged illegal practices by private sector employers and unions, conducting workplace elections, and helping to settle election-related disputes. Regulation of a broad range of conduct, such as unlawful lockouts of workers, termination of union organizers, refusals to bargain with unions selected by workers, unilateral changes to contract provisions covering such things as health insurance and pensions, unlawful strikes, picket line violence, and secondary boycotts, would be stalled if this proposal were adopted.

The delays would occur at a great cost to working people and responsible employers trying to survive in this difficult economic climate, and would have the potential to destabilize relations between labor and business. The severe cuts would also curtail the ability of the agency to restore jobs to people who were illegally fired. Charges of illegal discharges account for a significant portion of the Agency's caseload, and in just the last three years, the NLRB won 6,814 offers of reinstatement and obtained over $351 million in backpay for illegally discharged employees.

We are certainly aware of the tough economic times that all Americans are currently facing; they are reflected every day in our cases across the country. Our agency seeks to ensure that every tax dollar is well-spent, and has continually looked for efficiencies wherever possible in technology and staffing. These efforts are succeeding in achieving notable reductions in case backlogs and turnaround times while also improving case management and making more information available to the public. Rather than assist or accelerate those efforts, however, this proposal would be counterproductive, even reckless. At the end of the budget cycle, the backlog of cases would have grown, perhaps by 18,000, and turnaround times would have increased, without lasting efficiencies in return.

This proposal would have another effect: It would undercut the agency's momentum just as the Board returns to health after more than two years of vacancies, and as the Acting General Counsel spearheads a number of initiatives, including one that is bringing speedier resolution to charges of illegal discharges. The NLRB's reinvigoration was examined in a hearing called by the House majority last week, which featured critics and advocates, and underscored the long history of controversy involving this agency. Fortunately, an even more draconian House proposal that would have eliminated all NLRB funding for the remainder of the year was defeated during debate on amendments on Thursday, although it disturbingly garnered 176 votes. We hope that as the budget debate moves into the Senate, a serious discussion about these important issues will occur."

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency vested with the power to safeguard employees' rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative. The agency also acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions.

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