Robert Novak

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.


 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.


 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."


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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