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Agency Overhaul Proposal, Association Health Plan Rule Issued, Workplace Democracy Attack and Occupation Cooperation: Beltway Buzz, June 22, 2018

Agency Overhaul Proposal Announced. On June 21, the Trump administration issued a sweeping proposal to consolidate and streamline federal agencies. Of particular significance to the Buzz is the proposal to combine the departments of education and labor into the Department of Education and the Workforce. The administration maintains that this consolidation will “allow the Federal Government to address the educational and skill needs of American students and workers in a coordinated way, eliminating duplication of effort between the two agencies and maximizing the effectiveness of skill-building efforts.” As it has with most D.C. initiatives, the Buzz has seen this movie before: the Department of Education has been on the chopping block since its inception. The Buzz isn’t sure what makes this time better than any of the other times, so we will go out on a limb and predict that this merger won’t happen anytime soon.

Association Health Plan Rule Issued. On June 19, the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued a regulation that loosens the restrictions on association health plans. The new rule allows small employers to join together through shared geographic or industrial characteristics in order to obtain health insurance as though they were one large employer. According to a Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, the new rule will allow 4 million people—400,000 of whom are uninsured—to take advantage of expanded access to health insurance. Jeanne E. Floyd and Eric D. Penkert have the details here.

Workplace Democracy Attack. Over the last couple of weeks, the Buzz has discussed several pieces of labor reform legislation that have been introduced in both the House and Senate—in particular, the Workplace Democracy Act (WDA). While the Buzz has downplayed the bill’s chances of immediate success, business groups in D.C. aren’t taking any chances. For example, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace has come out aggressively against the WDA, launching a grassroots campaign against the bill and even placing a full-page advertisement in USA Today. And to think that the elections are still over four months away . . .

Occupation Cooperation? On June 20, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development held a hearing entitled “Occupational Licensing: Reducing Barriers to Economic Mobility and Growth.” The hearing explored the impact of occupational licensing and its potential overuse, particularly in areas where public safety is not an issue, such as braiding hair or floral design. While the hearing itself was unremarkable, the Buzz notes that the issue of occupational licensing reform is one of the very few (perhaps only?) labor and employment issues that enjoys bipartisan support in Washington, D.C. Indeed, in 2015, the Obama administration issued a report entitled “Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers,” which concluded that occupational licensing laws “raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities, and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across State lines.” Of course, most of the overreach on occupational licensing occurs at the state and local levels, so even with the bipartisan buy-in, the Buzz doesn’t expect big changes at the federal level.

Fathers of Comedy. We’re both fathers here at the Buzz, so this past weekend we were thankful for the 1972 act of Congress that established Father’s Day as a national holiday. We are also known to include some dad jokes in issues of the Buzz, so we thought it fitting to share this video of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC) telling dad jokes for Father’s Day. The Buzz thinks these were pretty good, but Ryan and McHenry have a ways to go if they are going to beat the king of the dad jokes in the Senate.

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About this Author

Senior Government Relations Counsel

James J. Plunkett works as a Senior Government Relations Counsel in the Governmental Affairs practice of Ogletree Deakins. 

  • J.D., Boston College, 2004

  • B.A., James Madison University, 1999

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