Groups allied with the Democrats go for broke

With Republicans taking control of the House next session, civil rights groups, immigration reform advocates and unions, among others, are pushing hard for their priorities. 

For groups traditionally allied with Democrats, the final work period in this Congress will be their last, best chance for movement on their priorities. 

“Timing is everything,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington legislative office for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


The ACLU is lobbying the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is expected to come up for a cloture vote as soon as Wednesday. The measure, which already passed the House, is designed to close the wage gap between men and women in the workplace. 

Last week, the civil rights group sent a letter to senators saying that the group would be “scoring both the cloture vote and the vote on the merits” when the bill comes up for debate. 

The ACLU is also pushing for a lame-duck repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevents gays from serving openly in the military, and is backing a bill from Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) that would establish a bipartisan commission to study how to improve the criminal justice system. 

Murphy expects her group’s favored legislation will find a much tougher reception in the next Congress. So with Democrats still holding their significant majorities in the House as well as the Senate for the next few weeks, she wants to see action now. 

“Some of the people who know the most about the legislation won’t be returning,” Murphy said. “The next Congress might not be as cloture-friendly.”

But that lobbying push from the ACLU is matched by its opponents who are on high alert. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), for example, sent its own vote-scoring letter to the Senate on Monday urging lawmakers not to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act.

In the trade group’s letter, Jay Timmons, NAM’s executive vice president, said the bill would lead to “increased threats of litigation” and “even more frivolous class-action suits” by removing limits to damage awards from workplace discrimination lawsuits. 

“This legislation will not help businesses create or retain jobs. In fact, it will do the opposite,” said Keith Smith, NAM’s director of employment and labor policy. “It will force employers to second-guess every pay decision they have to make.”

Immigration reform advocates also see the writing on the wall for their agenda in the next Congress and are calling for action during the lame duck. 

Their best chance for a legislative victory likely lies in the DREAM Act. The bill would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for children of illegal immigrants if they go to college or join the military. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (D-Nev.) tried to attach the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill earlier this year but failed. Reid has given assurances that he would try to pass the legislation again before the end of 2010. 

On a conference call with reporters Monday, Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (D-N.J.) pushed for the bill to be brought up during the lame-duck session. He said with more Republicans in Congress next year, it will be more difficult to pass a comprehensive bill.

“I’m not overly optimistic about the next session of Congress,” Menendez said.

Unions, too, are looking for Congress to move on their priorities before the year comes to an end. Unemployment benefits will expire by the end of this month, and labor groups want to see them renewed.

Last week, Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate group, protested outside Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE’s (R) district office in Troy, Ohio, calling for him to restore the benefits. BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE is likely to become the next House Speaker.

Along with extending unemployment benefits, labor wants to see the Senate move on a bill designed to punish China’s alleged currency manipulation as well as extend tax cuts only to those making $250,000 a year or below, according to Eddie Vale, an AFL-CIO spokesman. Vale said the labor federation’s agenda for the lame-duck session is “jobs, jobs and jobs.”

“There are many bills that everyone needs, and many more that we support as well. But the biggest issue facing our country right now is lack of jobs and a slow economic recovery,” Vale said.