Mr. Acosta Goes to Washington

Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee held a hearing on Alexander Acosta’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor. Mr. Acosta came off as smart, accomplished, and an individual who will enforce the laws on the books, not pursue a political agenda. This is a welcome change of pace from Labor secretaries under the Obama administration who used their office to advance Big Labor privilege over job creation and the interests of all workers.

Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) kicked off the hearing saying that “the Obama Administration unleashed a regulatory avalanche that held job creators back from creating jobs.” These enormous regulatory costs imposed by the Obama Department of Labor make it harder for employers to create jobs and more difficult for workers both to find new jobs and keep the ones they have. This is especially true for small businesses, which are the main drivers of job creation and less-well equipped to comply with onerous rules.

Related to red tape, many senators pressed Acosta for his thoughts on the Obama administration’s overtime rule. Currently, the overtime rule is held up in litigation. A Texas court issued a nationwide injunction against it because the law says that the litmus test for determining overtime eligibility is job duties, not salary. Therefore, such a huge raise to the salary threshold “exceeds [the Department of Labor’s] delegated authority and ignores Congress’s intent by raising the minimum salary level such that it supplants the duties test,” the judge explained.

In short, if the overtime rule went into effect it would raise the salary threshold by 100 percent from about $23,000 to $47,000. The rule would impose immense costs and paperwork burdens, and would disproportionately harm universities, state and local governments, and non-profits, as well as reduce workplace flexibility.

Acosta’s view on the rule was encouraging. He stressed a two key points in the various questions he received on the overtime rule:

  1. The overtime rule would put a great deal of stress on the economy because of such a large increase to the salary threshold, especially to certain low-wage industries and non-profits
  2. He is committed to reviewing the lawsuit against the rule and determining whether issuing such a regulation is within the authority of the Labor secretary

It is extremely important for the Labor secretary, and any other appointed official, that they simply enforce the law on the books, which Acosta says he is committed to doing. During the Obama administration, the DOL pursued an agenda consisting of punitively punishing employers and expanding union privilege. While implementing their politically motivated agenda, the DOL was frequently thwarted by the courts for overreaching its authority.

Throughout the hearing, Acosta was asked whether he would enforce certain regulations or repeal others. He consistently noted that he has been tasked by the president to review all regulations and would do so if confirmed. It is a nice change of pace that Acosta is committed to only enforcing the laws Congress passes and staying within his authority if confirmed as Labor secretary.

President Trump’s “skinny budget” proposal was also a hot topic at the hearing, which calls for a 21 percent cut to the DOL’s budget. Again, Acosta did not name specific programs or sub-agencies that would see cuts, which would have been rather presumptuous to do before being confirmed and prior to conferring with Department staffers. However, Acosta seems to understand the role and that he does not set the DOL’s funding levels. He frequently stated that that Congress’s job, not his. That said, Acosta plans to review the programs at the DOL, cut funds to programs that do not demonstrate a good rate of return for taxpayers, and tailor programs to the needs of localities.

Addressing the skills gap was a common line of questioning. Acosta said, “We need to make better efforts to align job training with the skills the market demands of its workers, especially as advancing technology changes the types of jobs available in our economy.”

Acosta did not give examples of job training programs he would pursue, but did note that the DOL would review how successful programs are, compile the information, and then adjust existing programs to fit the needs of local workforces and employers. Again, Acosta stressed the need to engage local communities to see what works and that one size does not fit all. In sum, Acosta does not believe that the federal government has all the answers to solve workforce issues and that government programs need to be shown to be good, not just sound good.

While not giving specific plans, Acosta also said that public-private partnerships are important. The DOL needs to work to bring together the businesses community, local government, and the education sector to better train workers and connect them to open jobs. 

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) asked Acosta for his overall philosophy on regulation. Acosta gave a welcome answer, saying that the federal government needs to eliminate unnecessary rules and free the main drivers of job creation, small businesses, from red tape. As Sen. Roberts mentioned, many small businesses in Kansas feel that they are being ruled by the federal government, not governed.

In conclusion, Acosta seems well-suited to become the next Secretary of Labor. He understands that burdensome regulations stifle growth, is committed to not overreaching his authority, and do his best to wisely spend tax dollars on programs that actually benefit hardworking Americans.