Senate Committee Approves Solis for Secretary of Labor

By Staff Report

Feb. 11, 2009

After weeks of delay, a Senate committee quickly approved the nomination of Rep. Hilda Solis, D-California, as the next secretary of labor on Wednesday, February 11.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee gathered for a two-minute meeting off the Senate floor during a break in other business to OK Solis by a voice vote, according to the Associated Press. Two Republicans on the panel voted against Solis.

Her nomination now heads for a vote by the full Senate, which could come this week.

Solis had her hearing on January 9. Since then, the process has been stalled. Last week, a committee vote was abruptly canceled when it was revealed that Solis’ husband had just paid $6,400 in tax liens against his auto repair business the previous day.

Tax problems dogged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner before he was confirmed, and they sank the nomination of former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, as health and human services secretary.

Solis faced other challenges from Republicans. After her hearing, they submitted written questions regarding her position on a bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions and her service as the unpaid treasurer of American Rights at Work, an advocacy organization. The GOP said that she failed to address those and other issues in her testimony.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts and chairman of the HELP Committee, said Solis, the daughter of immigrants who also were union members, would respond to the challenges facing the U.S. workforce during the recession.

“Hilda Solis comes from a working family herself, so she understands how the troubled economy is hurting average Americans,” Kennedy said in a statement. “American workers deserve to have her voice and her leadership as their secretary of labor, and I’m pleased that our committee approved her.”

Once Solis is put before the whole Senate, any member could prevent a vote by placing a “hold” on it. Her nomination would almost certainly prevail in a roll-call vote. Democrats hold a 58-41 majority, with a disputed Minnesota race still pending.

A White House spokesman said Wednesday that he anticipates Senate approval.

“I think that process will hopefully conclude quickly,” said Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary. “The president has confidence in her ability to continue the department’s mission.”

One of the stumbling blocks for Solis centers on a union measure, the Employee Free Choice Act. It would allow a union to form when a majority of workers sign authorization cards and prevent companies from requiring a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

Organized labor’s top legislative priority, the legislation is fiercely opposed by Republicans and business interests. Solis’ sentiment is no mystery. She is a co-sponsor of the bill, as was President Barack Obama when he was in the Senate.

Unions want Congress to act quickly on the measure, which could sharply increase the number of workers covered by collective bargaining units. Currently, about 7 percent of private-sector employees and 12 percent of the overall workforce belong to a union.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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