Romney Attack On Santorum Over Davis-Bacon Part Of Larger Trend

In the Arizona Republican debate last week, Mitt Romney attacked Rick Santorum for being too friendly to labor, including his support for the Davis-Bacon Act, an 81-year-old law that requires government-funded public works projects to pay

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In the Arizona Republican debate last week, Mitt Romney attacked Rick Santorum for being too friendly to labor, including his support for the Davis-Bacon Act, an 81-year-old law that requires government-funded public works projects to pay prevailing wages. Despite his vote to support Davis-Bacon, Santorum is far from a friend to labor. Romney's quote:

Well I’m looking at his [Santorum] historic record, which voting for raising the debt ceiling five different times without voting for compensating cuts. Voting to keep in place Davis-Bacon, which cost about $100 billion over — over 10 years. A whole series of votes. Voting to fund Planned Parenthood, to expand the Department of Education. During his term in the Senate, spending grew by some 80 percent of the federal government. But I — but I want to respond to Gilbert’s question, which I think is a critical one.

But Romney's attack is part of two bigger patterns. First is his hard-right pro-corporate anti-labor push, an effort to make him look conservative enough to be the nominee. Second is a right-wing assault on Davis-Bacon, a long-standing trend for which Romney is becoming the standard-bearer. Romney says that repealing the Act would be a top priority for him if he were elected, despite the fact that a repeal would do nothing to create jobs, would make little to no difference in the budget deficit, would harm working families and would put the government in the business of depressing wages in the construction industry.

Dave Jamieson at HuffPo does a great takedown of the conservative assault on the law:

Unions and left-leaning economists generally consider Davis-Bacon a bedrock of modern labor law. Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, has studied the act and said it ensures "the government isn’t involved in depressing wages," given that wages set by public projects have ripple effects across the economy. If a contractor wants to submit a lowball bid, Eisenbrey said, then Davis-Bacon guarantees "they're getting a smaller profit rather than taking it out of the hide of workers."

Conservatives mostly view Davis-Bacon as bad public policy. James Sherk, labor policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, argues that under Davis-Bacon the government uses union wage scales that inflate the costs of government-funded projects. Romney has echoed those thoughts, painting Davis-Bacon as a handout to unions.

In making that argument, the Romney campaign apparently has been relying on Sherk's research. Sherk produced a memo last February arguing that repealing Davis-Bacon would save taxpayers $10.9 billion per year. The Romney campaign has linked Sherk's work directly on its website.

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Sherk views Davis-Bacon as a "subsidy" for unions, and he said that it's "totally fair to knock Santorum on it." As the Romney campaign website notes, Santorum cast a vote with mostly Democrats in 1996 in support of the Davis-Bacon Act. Santorum did not directly address Davis-Bacon after Romney broached the subject during Wednesday's debate.

Despite the posturing, there is little to no chance that Romney's fantasy of repealing the Act will ever come true. As Jamieson points out, even if Republicans had the White House and both houses of Congress, they would still face defections like Santorum's and would have little chance of passing a repeal.

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