Biden passing the buck to Congress on rail strike — and union blowback

Source: Hot Air

At first, the White House thought they’d delivered a win for Joe Biden on the threat of a rail strike that could bring distribution to a near-halt in the US. And they did … at least until after the midterm elections. The agreement Biden had helped quarterback between rail owners and Biden’s union allies fell apart, however, and now threatens to blow up in his face.

Suddenly, President Loan Forgiveness has remembered the Article I branch:

President Biden will meet with congressional leaders from both parties on Tuesday morning as a national freight rail strike looms and lawmakers are faced with decisions in the coming days about funding the government and protecting same-sex marriage. …

On Monday night, Mr. Biden urged lawmakers to swiftly pass legislation that would prevent a labor stoppage by rail workers next month, saying that such a move could have devastating effects on the nation’s economy.

“Congress has the power to adopt the agreement and prevent a shutdown,” the president said in a statement. “It should set aside politics and partisan division and deliver for the American people. Congress should get this bill to my desk well in advance of Dec. 9 so we can avoid disruption.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Monday night that the House would vote on that issue this week, ahead of a strike deadline set for early December. Mr. Biden is likely to urge Senate leaders to follow suit during the meeting at the White House on Tuesday morning.

Why not go back to the table? After all, Biden ran on his public support for unions, and may be the most labor-reliant president in a generation. Barack Obama didn’t need to go out of his way to win their support in 2008, certainly, although they may have mattered more in 2012. If anyone can work with and deliver for the unions, it’s Biden.

Except, of course, he didn’t. That’s why the one union balked at Biden’s negotiated settlement, which barely touched one of their key issues: paid sick leave. Even the trade-off on wages didn’t seem terribly impressive at the time, given the high rates of inflation and the length of time workers had gone without pay increases during the preceding and prolonged negotiating period.

With that in mind, perhaps Big Labor would expect Biden to reopen negotiations and lean on the railroads for some sick-time concessions. As Quartz notes, however, it looks as though Biden is abandoning his union allies:

Doubling down on his claims of being a “proud pro-labor President,” Biden expressed reluctance about overriding the agreement’s ratification procedures. But he said it was necessary, because the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions. If the rail network came to a halt, chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water would not reach communities, and farms and ranches would be unable to feed their livestock, among other things.

Unions are upset with Biden for not walking his talk of being the “most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history.” For instance, Biden has said that he shares workers’ concerns about “inability to take leave to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.” But in urging Congress to impose the tentative agreement, he is also pushing through a deal that doesn’t include sick pay, just to avoid disrupting the holiday season.

“This is a legacy defining moment for Joe Biden. He is going down as one of the biggest disappointments in labor history,” an inter-union alliance called Railroad Workers United (RWU) tweeted.

The political blowback from unions will likely be massive. By punting this back to a lame-duck Congress, Biden is attempting to spread the damage to the rest of his party and escape at least some of the blame.

Does Biden have a choice? Under current labor law, Biden is likely out of options. He already called a halt to a strike and appointed arbitrators to hammer out the deal that’s on the table at the moment. He could declare a national emergency and order workers to go back to work under their previous contract, but that may exceed his authority — and would put all of the blame on him.

The kicker on this, though, is that Biden has been a president who barely recognizes any limit to his presidential authority. He appropriated hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air to fund his now-enjoined Academia bailout, a staggering violation of Congress’ jurisdiction. Biden’s not the only president to abuse his authority through EOs, but he is the first to fully assume the power of the federal purse by declaration. Why not follow the same strategy here — issue an order sending the rail workers back on the job, and let the courts spend weeks mulling it over while negotiations restart?

Because Biden doesn’t want to have anything to do with the result — a wildcat strike, a sudden stop on goods distribution, and all sorts of economic damage. Suddenly he wants Congress to act to bail him out of a mess he helped create.

CNN reports that Congress will likely oblige Biden, hoping to keep the economy from getting derailed:

The threat of a freight railroad strike that had been building in recent weeks receded quickly after President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress agreed late Monday to support legislation that would block a walk-out by more than 100,000 union members set for the end of next week.

The move relieved business groups, which had been growing increasingly concerned about the threat posed by 30% of the nation’s freight movements grinding to a halt. More than 400 business groups had joined to plead with Congressional leaders on Monday for quick action.

A strike, set for December 9, would have snarled still-struggling supply chains and caused shortages and a spike in prices gasoline, food, automobiles and other goods, causing a body blow for the economy that many fear is already at risk of tipping into a recession. A week-long strike could cost the economy $1 billion, according to an estimate from Anderson Economic Group. The White House estimated that as many as 765,000 workers could temporarily be out of work within two weeks if the rail workers went on strike.

We can probably expect this to take precedence in the lame-duck session. Republicans won’t have any reason to block it, and plenty of reasons to allow the deal to get hung around Biden’s neck. It will likely take a few days, however, and Republicans may want to string out the debate in the Senate until close to the deadline to keep other lame-duck mischief off the floor.

The end result should be the avoidance of disruptions and economic instability. It will also include, however, massive disillusionment among labor unions about the value of supporting Biden and Democrats in general. That will matter in the next election cycle, especially when it comes to ground organization on behalf of Democrats who vote for this bill.

Update: This will allow more populist Republicans to side with the rail workers, but this seems like a bad omen for Biden and the railroads. Marco Rubio says no:

Rubio has tuned his messaging more to working-class concerns than his original Tea Party positions in 2010. That came in part from recognition that the Trump/populist wing of the GOP was both more sizable and energetic than people thought in 2016, which Rubio learned the hard way in that cycle. But still, a rail strike will hurt the same people as the workers he’s defending here. It’s a tough line to walk.

One has to wonder how many GOP votes Schumer can muster … and whether his own progressive wing will stymie any kind of imposed deal, too. Bernie Sanders had already staked out his ground on this issue two days ago:

With that in mind, why doesn’t Biden roll up his sleeves and force a concession on management rather than workers? Because he won’t get it … and he’ll look like a failure for trying.

Update: Biden’s not getting much enthusiasm from GOP moderates either: