Sure, defeating Andy Puzder’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor was a good thing. He is a truly terrible human being. But during a week where the headlines were rightfully dominated by the huge Republican defeat on health care, hearings for the new nominee, Alexander Acosta happened and on policy is going to be nearly as bad as Puzder.
The disturbing takeaway was that Mr. Acosta would not defend the new overtime standards, which are desperately needed. By government estimates, 4.2 million workers earning salaries between $455 and $913 a week would become newly eligible for overtime if the regulation took effect. By more liberal estimates, another roughly eight million workers who are currently denied overtime on the basis of their job duties would have a stronger claim to it under the new rule’s clear and updated standards, including millions who live in states that went for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Acosta’s answers to questions about other worker protections were also troubling. He would not commit to upholding a Labor Department rule, set to take effect in April, that would require financial advisers to put clients’ interests first when giving advice or selling investments for 401(k) rollovers or other retirement-related transactions. Nor would he commit to enforcing a rule to protect construction workers from carcinogenic dust.
Mr. Acosta tried to justify his evasions by citing directives from Mr. Trump to review and possibly roll back pending rules before moving forward with them. But that dodges the issue. It is important to know what he thinks, because it would be his job to educate and influence the president on labor-policy matters. His reticence at the hearing suggests he will — or already does — embrace the Trump administration’s demolition approach to sensible regulation.
The difference for American workers between the special moral repugnancy of Puzder and the everyday banal awfulness of Acosta is not going to be that much. And that banal awfulness is something that will unite all Republicans, regardless of whatever civil wars they have over other issues.