Reid Schedules Vote on Controversial Labor Nominee Before Brown Arrives

Shown here is Patricia Smith, nominee for U.S. Department of Labor solicitor. (New York Department of Labor)

Shown here is Patricia Smith, nominee for U.S. Department of Labor solicitor. (New York Department of Labor)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a key vote Monday afternoon on a controversial Labor Department nominee, even though Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown has not been sworn in yet. 

The vote has riled at least one watchdog group, saying Reid is just trying to ram through the nomination of Patricia Smith for Labor Department solicitor before Republicans have enough votes to block her. And a spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi, the Republican senator who had put a "hold" on Smith's nomination last year, said Enzi would prefer "all controversial nominations" be put off until Brown is seated. 

Enzi, ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, put out a report Monday saying Smith's "lack of candor" in prior testimony before his committee makes her "unqualified" for the post. 

Republicans have widely objected to Smith's nomination. Every Republican on the Senate panel screening Smith for the post went on record in opposition back in October, citing "discrepancies" in her congressional testimony. Enzi, R-Wyo., put a hold on the nomination around the same time, meaning Smith would need 60 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle in the Senate. 

Democrats currently have 60 votes, but that number will drop to 59 once Brown is sworn in. 

"He'd be the 41st vote (against) cloture," said Don Todd, research director with Americans for Limited Government. He said Reid should hold off, given that he said the Senate would not "rush into anything" after Brown was elected in the Massachusetts special election. At the time, Reid was referring mainly to health care reform

Asked whether Reid was trying to squeeze in the vote before Brown is seated, a Reid aide said Reid was "committed" to moving the nomination forward early this year because such motions were put off last year due to the health care debate. 

"Patricia Smith has been ready for floor consideration since she was reported out of the HELP Committee on Oct. 6 of last year, but Republican senators have blocked her from receiving a vote on the floor," the aide said in an e-mail. 

Senate Republicans' concerns are rooted in the creation of a labor initiative in New York during Smith's term as state labor commissioner. The New York Wage Watch program, modeled after neighborhood watch programs, encourages workers to monitor and report labor law violations. 

Conservatives, though, say the program gives unions too much power. Senate Republicans' specific objections with Smith have to do with alleged "inconsistencies" in her testimony to Congress on the development of the program in New York. 

Enzi's report on Monday alleged that the New York state Department of Labor had input from outside groups, though Smith told Congress the program was created internally. The report said internal documents repeatedly discuss the expansion of the program, though Smith told the committee she had no plans to expand it in New York. 

Enzi wrote to President Obama in August saying he was also concerned that Smith did not initially consult with small business owners in developing the program. 

"I have significant concerns about Ms. Smith's ability to work with small businesses," Enzi wrote. 

Smith's nomination, however, has been in the pipeline for nearly a year. Obama nominated Smith for the post last March. 

In the March announcement, the administration cited her extensive record in the labor field. 

She worked for 20 years in the Labor Bureau of the New York attorney general's office. As New York labor commissioner, Smith overseas 3,700 employees in 80 offices and serves as an adviser to Gov. David Paterson

The Wage Watch program, criticized by Republicans, was hailed by unions and watchdog groups when it was announced last January. Bruce W. Both, head of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, called the program at the time a "creative yet fiscally efficient way to educate workers and employers about their labor rights and obligations during these difficult economic times."