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Letting the government govern

By Dylan Matthews
It turns out that when you let government officials take their positions, things actually get done faster! See what happened to the National Labor Review Board since President Obama recess-appointed two members to empty seats:

One thing labor and business agree on is that the board’s deadlock will soon end. Since January 2008, the board has had just one Democratic member, its chairwoman, Wilma B. Liebman, and one Republican, Peter C. Schaumber. Now there will be three Democrats and one Republican.

About 220 cases are pending at the board, half on important, controversial issues that Ms. Liebman and Mr. Schaumber have not tackled, believing they should not be handled by just two members. And in about 60 cases, the two members have deadlocked.

“There’s now a full complement of Democrats on the board so they can start doing something,” said Samuel Estreicher, a labor law professor at New York University. “I think you’re going to see a more activist N.L.R.B.”

The framing of this in terms of "activist" suggests that having an NLRB that actually decides on cases is somehow a liberal cause. It isn't; obviously, liberal labor laws, like the National Labor Relations Act, are a liberal cause, but the idea that the government should take laws seriously isn't particularly controversial, and current federal law matters only if there's a functional NLRB to enforce it. Having a regulatory body with a 220-case backlog is a sign that the current labor law regime is being ignored, and should be a cause for concern for people who believe in the rule of law and think fairly passed legislation ought to be implemented. Of course, having a government that does not work and where duly passed laws are unenforceable serves some peoples' interests in certain cases, which is why the Senate GOP has worked so hard to prevent institutions like the NLRB from working and thus to let existing labor laws go ignored. But these senators should at least admit that's what they're doing, and explain to the public why they think the government should selectively enforce laws.

Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.

By Washington Post editor  |  April 1, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
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I'm not sure I get the point of this post. But regardless, wasn't the main issue that Craig Becker had expressed activist sentiment about that led people to be concerned that he would go beyond merely taking laws seriously, Dylan?

Posted by: gocowboys | April 1, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Concern about appointing someone knowledgeable and interested in the field of regulation should be a given.

The alternative was Scott Brown at FEMA.

Posted by: Jaycal | April 1, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Remember, Bush tried to fill the vacancies at the NLRB, and the Democratic Senate blocked him. Matthews is trying to paint this as a GOP problem, but he's only giving half the story. He portrays this as a good-government issue, but actually it's just political spin.

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 1, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

It will be an activist NLRB, especially for unions. One of the appointees was the first person EVER on the board to have worked for a union. Lest you think the NLRB is some unimportant bureacratic group, they can actually backdoor stuff from the card check bill into regulations.

Posted by: novalifter | April 1, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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