by: Nadia Prupis, t r u t h o u t
WASHINGTON - House Republicans have renamed several Congressional committees by changing or removing certain hot-button words such as "civil rights" and "labor" from their titles.
The Education and Labor Committee became the Education and Workforce Committee, while the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties is set to be renamed the Constitution Subcommittee.
This is not the first time that the Education and Labor Committee has been renamed. A Republican-run House led by Newt Gingrich first changed the committee name to Education and the Workforce in 1994 to demonstrate anti-union policies; when Democrats regained control of the House in 2006, they changed the name back to Education and Labor.
Some labor leaders feel that the most recent switch represents a message similar to that of the Gingrich-era House.
Bill Samuel, director of government affairs at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), told The Hill that Gingrich's House used the Education and Workforce Committee to "undermine the rights of the workers who want to bargain for a better standard of living." The newest committee name change "really does mean something. More than the rhetoric, they have a different agenda."
Chuck Loveless, director of legislation at the American Federation of County, State, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told The Hill, "We basically think this name change is symbolic of the new majority's hostility toward the rights of everyday working Americans."
While incoming committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minnesota) could not be reached for comment, Education and Workforce Committee communications Director Alexa Marrero told The Wall Street Journal, "Education and the Workforce was the name selected by Republicans more than a decade ago to reflect the committee's broad jurisdiction over policies that affect American students, workers, and retirees."
Congress founded the Education and Labor Committee in 1867.
Kline, who also serves on the Armed Services Committee, was one of many House Republicans to introduce legislation that would repeal President Obama's health care overhaul, stating at the time, "Republicans are fulfilling our pledge to take up legislation that will repeal and replace the job-killing health care law ... The new Congress will make job creation and fiscal responsibility top priorities, and repealing ObamaCare is an important part of our efforts." The vote is set to take place January 12, although it is unlikely to pass in the Senate or a presidential veto.
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Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties since 2007, also spoke out against Republicans' plans to rename the panel and remove the words "civil rights" and "civil liberties."
"Once again, the new Republican majority has shown that it isn't quite as committed to the Constitution as its recent lofty rhetoric would indicate," Nadler said in a press release. "It has yet again shown its contempt for key portions of the document – the areas of civil rights and civil liberties - by banishing those words from the title of the Constitution Subcommittee."
Incoming Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks (R-Arizona) was listed as the most conservative member of the House in 2010 by the National Journal. He previously said that black Americans received better treatment as slaves than they do today due to abortion, stating, "Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than they were being devastated by the policies of slavery."
The Constitution Subcommittee has legal power over constitutional amendments, civil rights and ethics in government.
"Republicans have made a great deal of noise in recent days about standing up for the Constitution," Nadler said in his statement. "But, in less than 48 hours, they have already revealed their true intentions. In addition to reading selectively from the Constitution on the House floor in a much-exalted ceremony on Thursday, Republicans also blatantly violated the Constitution by allowing two of their Members to vote without having been sworn-in, and introduced unconstitutional legislation aimed at bypassing the 14th Amendment's citizenship clause."
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born in the United States. King's bill would only allow citizenship to the children of citizens, legal immigrants, or immigrants in the military.
"With the Subcommittee name change, [Republicans] are again telling Americans that only some parts of the constitution matter," Nadler stated. "Fundamental rights and liberties appear to have been dropped from the Constitution by far-right ideologues."