In Session : Congress
Sign of Times for GOP: Spanish Spoken Here
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2003; Page A19
Latinos have become the "it" community in U.S. politics, and both Republicans and Democrats are trying to win them over. The latest example of this trend: 20 Republican lawmakers and 50 of their aides have taken up Spanish.
Rep. Gerald C. Weller (R-Ill.) has organized the class, taught by the Department of Agriculture's graduate school. The two-hour sessions will run 10 legislative weeks, and Republicans are hoping it will help them bond with Latino voters.
This is not the first time congressional Republicans have embraced español: Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) organized a class earlier this year, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) did one as well. But this is "by far the most ambitious effort," according to Weller spokesman Ben Fallon.
In a statement, Weller said he was confident the GOP's scholastic efforts would pay political dividends. "Republicans in Congress are eager to work with the Hispanic community on President Bush's agenda, and the launch of Spanish on the Hill shows we are serious about working with Spanish-speaking America," he said.
Democrats, of course, are less than impressed.
"Actions count more than delivering a message in Spanish," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.). "Instead of learning Spanish, Republicans must understand the priorities of Hispanic families -- and those priorities do not include tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of 1.6 million Hispanic families who will not receive a child tax credit this year."
LABOR WIN: Labor scored a rare legislative win this week, when it forced GOP leaders to pull a bill that would have let employers offer comp time in lieu of overtime pay. Unions spent 21/2 months lobbying centrist Democrats and Republicans from heavily unionized districts, visiting 150 members' offices and generating 240,000 letters.
Republicans said the measure would simply give employers and employees more flexibility, because workers could decide what kind of compensation they wanted. But union officials said the change would undermine the workers' right to get overtime, because managers would choose workers who agreed to time instead of money.
"There was significant support from moderate Republicans that were unwilling to cast a vote to unravel the 40-hour workweek and cut overtime pay for millions of workers," said Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO.
Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, called the controversy surrounding the bill "pure politics."
"The focus of the labor bosses to stop this was intense," he said. "We're going to keep working on it."
FAMILY PLANNING: Although the Bush administration killed $34 million in funding for the United Nations' family planning program last year, a couple of women refused to take no for an answer. Independently of each other, Lois Abraham of Taos, N.M., and Jane Roberts of Redlands, Calif., started an e-mail campaign aimed at raising private money to make up for the loss in federal funding.
Their pitch? Get 34 million Americans to each give $1 to the United Nations. Nine months later, they've raised $1.2 million, and now they're lobbying Congress to authorize the full $34 million as part of the State Department's annual authorization bill.
"We are trying to replace the money and send a message to the U.S. government that the people they represent want them to support this cause," Abraham said.
The real battle will be on the House floor later this month, when the State Department bill comes up for a vote. Family planning advocates won an unexpected victory in the International Relations Committee on May 16, when the panel approved funding by a single vote.
"I think we can win this one," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.). "Grass roots is extremely important. A million people can influence elections."
FUNNY CIDE'S CAMPAIGN: Although many watched the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, few were as invested as Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.), whose district is home to Funny Cide, who surprised experts by winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness this year. Six "regular guys" pooled their money, got a few more investors and bought a long-shot horse who exceeded all expectations.
Sweeney said in an interview last week he would probably place "a dollar or two" on Funny Cide. Unfortunately, Funny Cide lost.
THE WEEK AHEAD: The Senate plans to take up the appeals court nomination of Michael Chertoff, who heads the criminal division of the Justice Department, and the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The House will take up the FAA bill, a class-action bill and Internet gambling legislation.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company