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Monday, September 19, 2005

Congressman Davis and President Bush and a traumatized Biloxi, MI couple

On September 8, 2005, one day before a yet unfired FEMA Director Michael was sent back to Washington and 3 days after Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, received a $500 million dollar no bid contract for emergency repairs at hurricane-damaged navel and marine Gulf Coast facilities, President Bush, to most eyes still reeling from the consequences of his personal conduct toward the disaster, firmly grabbed a presidential pen and signed an Executive Order suspending federal law governing workers’ pay on federal contracts within the Katrina-devastated region.
Long hated by Republicans as a boon to organized labor, the law, Subchapter IV, Chapter 31, Title 40 of the United States Code, is commonly known as the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931.
Davis-Bacon, passed by Congress during the Great Depression, set a minimum pay scale [Section 3142(b) of title 40] for work on federal contracts by requiring contractors to pay the average wage common to the particular region in question.
Section 3147 of title 40 gives the President of the United States the power to “suspend the provisions of this subchapter during a national emergency.”
The President’s Executive Order found that “wage rates imposed by section 3142 of title 40, United States Code, increase the cost to the Federal Government of providing Federal assistance” [their suspension] “will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals.”
According to a September 9th article in the Washington Post there is some disagreement with the President’s findings:

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney denounced the Bush announcement as "Outrageous…Employers are all too eager to exploit workers…what a double tragedy it would be…to depress living standards even further." Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, accused Bush of "using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities."

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), in a statement published by the blog Talking Points Memo on September 15th said:

"With a stroke of the pen, in one of his first Katrina directives, the President cut the wages of the workers who will undertake our largest reconstruction project since the Civil War."

In all the years since 1931, Davis-Bacon has been suspended three times prior to the September 8th order and only one previous time in response to a national disaster.
In 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt suspended the Act for three weeks to manage administrative adjustments for his New Deal.
President Richard M. Nixon in February 1971 suspended Davis-Bacon for 28 days "to reduce inflation pressures".
On October 14, 1992 President George Herbert Walker Bush, in the first suspension following a disaster, signed Proclamation 6491 temporarily lifting Davis-Bacon in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.
President William J. Clinton revoked Proclamation 6491 on March 6th 1993 with an Executive Order.
The blog Talking Points Memo has been tracking the “wiggly” positions of Republican Congressmen across the country regarding President George Walker Bush’s suspension of the prevailing wage in the Katrina-devastated areas:

Rep. Todd Akin's office (R-MO) is telling constituents that the Gulf Coast Wage Cut is standard operating procedure after a natural disaster…West Virginia Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R)…has "not taken a position [on the Wage Cut] but is in the process of formulating one”…Favorite answers from swing-district Republicans has them saying they're 'concerned' about it and want to make sure it's temporary…It has to be temporary…[The President] has no power to permanently overturn the law.

In a call to Kentucky’s 4th District Republican freshman Congressman Geoff Davis’ office earlier this afternoon, I asked “for the Congressman's position regarding the President’s suspension of Subchapter IV, Chapter 31, Title 40 of the United States Code.”
The young unidentified female voice answering the phone in Congressman Davis’ Washington, DC office acted as though she did not understand my question.
Taking my constituent particulars she said the Congressman would be happy to respond to my question in a letter.
I said that I’d prefer a more immediate response if possible.
She then asked if I was sure I wasn’t a member of the media.
“Yes” I replied, “I’m sure. I’m a constituent who would like to know the Congressman position regarding the President’s Executive Order”
“You mean the Davis-Bacon Act, right?” she asked.
“Yes” I replied while inwardly smiling at her pretense.
“I can pass this on and have someone get back to you later.”
“Can I expect a return call this afternoon?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.” She said.
Two hours later I, again, called Congressman Davis’ office and spoke to the same young woman.
She promised that she had passed my question along to the Congressman’s Legislative Assistant Armstrong Robinson and that he would eventually be getting back to me.
Before the call concluded I asked the young lady how she was so quickly able to determine that Subchapter IV, Chapter 31, Title 40 of the United States Code was indeed the Davis-Bacon Act.
“We’ve been getting a lot of mail on that.” She said.
“Oh,” I replied, “Are you sure the Congressman hasn’t formulated an official position you could relay to me now?"

Image:, Reuters, Los Angeles Times
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