Leaving the AFL-CIO?

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jul 02, 2005 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- The National Education Association (NEA), which never has joined the AFL-CIO, is seriously considering joining a potent coalition of unions that may form a rival new labor organization.

 The Carpenters, which left the AFL-CIO in 2001, last week became the latest union to join the Change to Win coalition led by James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters and Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Also included are the Laborers, Food Workers and Unite Here (hotel and needle workers).

 A showdown is likely at the AFL-CIO meeting in Chicago beginning July 25. John Sweeney may have to step down as AFL-CIO president within six months to avoid a bolt by the Change to Win unions.

SUGAR AND ETHANOL

 The Senate Finance Committee's voice vote approval Wednesday of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) followed closed-door briefings by Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. He explained planned use of government-purchased sugar to manufacture ethanol.

 "That's adding a super-boondoggle to a boondoggle," Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a critic of both sugar and ethanol subsidies, told this column. This move is intended to harness two powerful lobbies on behalf of CAFTA, but sugar lobbyists say they are still opposed.

 A footnote: Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez traveled to Denver last Sunday at the request of freshman Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, who is undecided on CAFTA. Gutierrez lobbied Salazar to vote for the trade agreement in a meeting at Denver International Airport.

FOOD FOR CUBA

 Timothy Adams, nominated on April 6 to be Treasury under secretary for international affairs, will not represent the U.S. government at the G8 summit in Scotland next week unless the Bush administration settles a dispute with Sen. Max Baucus over selling farm products to Cuba.

 Baucus, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has put a hold on Adams's confirmation. Baucus had warned that he would hold up nominees if President Bush went through with his plans, announced last November, that have reduced sales to the Cuban market.

 When Baucus asked Adams about the Cuban issue at his May 24 Finance Committee hearing, Adams replied: "I am reluctant to offer an opinion on a matter that I have not studied in greater detail." Baucus responded: "You're going to have plenty of time to look into this, I guarantee you that."

BIDEN FOR PRESIDENT?

 While many Democratic insiders do not take Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware seriously as a candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination, his agents are interviewing staffers for the coming campaign.

 Biden was a serious prospect for the 1988 nomination until his candidacy exploded over plagiarism charges. In 2008, he would be a long shot if Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York runs. Biden will celebrate his 66th birthday shortly after the next presidential election.

 Biden's national ambitions may be reflected by a more partisan voting record in the Senate this year. He normally would be considered a probable vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), but administration officials have written him off as a "no" vote.

HAWAIIAN "INDIANS"

 The Senate is nearing floor debate and probable passage on a bill to establish "a Native Hawaiian governing entity" entirely separate from the state government of Hawaii with a special voting roll of "native-born" citizens.

 A race-based government entity is justified by its principal supporter, Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, by treating the "native Hawaiians" as an Indian tribe. They constitute about 20 percent of the state's population.

 Although many Republican senators oppose the bill, five of its eight original sponsors are Republicans. They include Alaska's two Republican senators (Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski), who always back their Hawaiian colleagues under a mutual support agreement. Support from the other three Republicans (Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Gordon Smith of Oregon) may reflect lobbying by Hawaii's Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.