Thursday, June 20, 2013
WASHINGTON - On Monday, the U.S. Department of Labor will celebrate two important anniversaries, one of which involves a pioneering labor leader with Maine roots.
On March 4, 1913, President William Howard Taft signed a bill creating the Labor Department. Precisely 20 years later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made history by nominating Frances Perkins to be the first woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet post.
Perkins, who is buried in her family plot in Newcastle, Maine, was Roosevelt's labor secretary and one of FDR's top economic advisers during the Great Depression. She helped steer his New Deal agenda and was pivotal in the creation of Social Security, the establishment of a minimum wage and passage of legislation protecting workers' right to organize.
The headquarters building of the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., is named for Perkins, who was also the longest-serving secretary of labor in U.S. history.
Roosevelt's letter, from March 4, 1933, nominating Perkins contains a single line: "I nominate Frances Perkins of New York to be secretary of labor." But an addendum attached to the bottom of the White House stationery by Edwin A. Halsey, the secretary of the Senate in 1933, makes clear this was no typical nomination.
"This is the first instance of a woman being appointed to a Cabinet position," Halsey wrote.
Perkins was born in Massachusetts, but her family's roots in Maine date back to the 1700s. She spent most summers at the family home in Newcastle, which now houses the Frances Perkins Center.
CONGRESS URGED TO 'FEEL PAIN'
Frustrated over Washington's inability to find a better way to dish out $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts, a state lawmaker fired off a petition last week calling on members of Congress to forgo a chunk of their own pay.
Rep. Diane Russell's sentiment apparently resonated with others -- more than 230,000 others by Sunday afternoon, to be exact.
"As a state politician in Maine, I am seeing first-hand the devastating impact these cuts will have on our local communities," Russell, D-Portland, wrote in the petition posted on signon.org. "Why should our congressional representatives not feel some of the pain, if they're so convinced that cuts are the answer? The least they can do is cut their own salaries first."
UPDATED: An astute reader pointed out that the 27th Amendment prohibits a sitting Congress from changing their current salaries, instead requiring any changes to take effect in the next Congress.
Russell's petition acknowledged that fact but states that, because the "sequester" cuts will continue for 10 years if left unabated, lawmakers could require members of the next Congress to share in the budget pain being imposed on federal workers.
CLIMBING INTO MEDICARE
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, began their leadership of the Senate Special Committee on Aging last week by delving into the core issue facing Medicare: delivering quality care to a growing number of seniors without bankrupting the country.
In her opening statement, Collins noted that Medicare accounts for 15 percent of total federal spending today and will only rise as the baby boomer generation ages.
"I've opposed past efforts to restructure Medicare in ways that I believe could be harmful to the 50 million American seniors and disabled individuals who rely on the program," said Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee. "I believe, however, that there are changes that can be made without jeopardizing access to affordable quality health care for our nation's seniors. The real key to getting Medicare costs under control is to get health care costs under control."
The committee heard presentations on the need to spend more money on helping seniors prevent such common diseases as diabetes to save money down the road.
In the coming weeks, the committee plans to hold hearings on lottery scams that have stolen untold millions of dollars from seniors, including many in Maine and New England.
SEEKING SENATE TRANSPARENCY
Freshman Sen. Angus King has joined an effort to end a Senate tradition that has irked watchdog groups, journalists and curious citizens for years.
In a world of electronic everything, the Senate has rigidly stuck to its policy of allowing senators and candidates to file their campaign spending and fundraising reports in paper form. The result is mountains of paperwork -- often arriving by mail days after they were due -- that Senate staff must scan page by page before sending the reports to the Federal Election Commission for posting online.
It sometimes takes weeks -- even months -- for all the reports to be posted, wasting staff time and plenty of paper.
Watchdog groups have been trying for years to require electronic submission, but with no luck in the stodgy Senate. This year, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is re-introducing his bill to require Senate campaign committees to file electronically like all other federal campaign committees.
King, I-Maine, has signed on as a co-sponsor.
"Congressional campaigns are only becoming more expensive, while the transparency of their funding remains murky at best," King said in a statement. "The result is a regrettable amount of money influencing our elections with voters still asking where it all came from. This common-sense measure will not only ensure candidate accountability and increase transparency for voters, but it will do so in a timely manner while saving taxpayer money."
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:
On Twitter: @KevinMillerDCTweet
Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or email@example.com
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