March 13, 2023

Business Groups Argue Against U.S. Senate Panel Overreach

On March 3, a coalition of industry trade groups, including the Metals Service Center Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) asking the lawmakers to oppose a plan to give the committee all-encompassing powers to authorize investigations into labor relations at major U.S. companies.

On March 1, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the committee, had requested his fellow panel members vote to give him these powers.

As the letter explained, there is no precedent for this type of comprehensive and boundless authority. In fact, the HELP Committee, which has existed in one form or another since 1869, rarely has approved a subpoena to even compelled witness testimony. A review of available committee records, in fact, reveals only two instances in which the HELP Committee voted to issue subpoenas, once in 2006 and once in 1983. In both cases, it appears the authorization was narrowly tailored and, more importantly, had bipartisan support, which is fitting as the Senate HELP Committee has a long and storied history of bipartisan cooperation.

Additionally, past committee chairs rarely used the authority that Chair Sanders now requests, and none ever sought a blank check to investigate such a vast area as “violations of federal labor law.”

The letter, available here, concluded, “As drafted, the authority sought also could permit the Chair to meddle in the affairs of any employer anywhere in the country at any time. … At a time when our country faces real challenges, including an ongoing workforce shortage, the recovery from the impacts of the pandemic on our education system, the ongoing rise in health care costs, and a dearth of retirement security, the HELP Committee and its staff could be focused on solutions to assist everyday Americans.”

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