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House passes bill to halt NLRB from taking action

WASHINGTON — The House on Friday passed a bill to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from conducting much of its business until a dispute over the president’s recess appointments is resolved.

The Republican-backed measure, approved on a 219-209 vote that broke largely along party lines, is a response to a federal appeals court ruling in January that President Barack Obama violated the Constitution by filling vacancies on the board without Senate confirmation. The measure is not expected to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it goes next.

White House officials say the court’s decision is flawed and insist the board can continue operating while the ruling is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Republicans and their allies in the business community claim the agency lacks any legitimacy to issue decisions.

Obama has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would jeopardize workers’ rights.

The board, which resolves disputes between unions and management, has operated under a cloud for months since the court’s ruling. Republicans say the board’s work is tainted, creating uncertainty for both businesses and unions that rely on its decisions.

“Every decision it issues is ripe for appeal on the basis the board itself is not legitimate,” Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said in a floor speech.

The bill would prevent the board from conducting business for the rest of the year unless the Senate confirms new members constituting a quorum or the Supreme Court decides the board has the authority to act.

But Democrats say it would render a critical agency powerless to help victims of unfair labor violations and encourage employers to ignore union election results and refuse to bargain.

Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., accused Republicans of putting the board in an awkward position because GOP lawmakers in the Senate have refused to confirm Obama’s nominees to the NLRB. Republicans have complained about the board’s pro-labor tilt and its recent decisions that could help unions organize new members.

“A functioning board is clearly not the objective of the other side,” Andrews said.

The five-member board currently has only three members, two of whom Obama appointed in January 2012 while the Senate was on a break. It needs a quorum of at least three sitting members to conduct business.

Obama has asked the Senate to confirm those two recess appointments to full terms. This week, Obama also renominated board Chairman Mark Pearce for another term and nominated two Republican lawyers for the remaining seats, part of a five-member package deal he wants the Senate to confirm swiftly.

But GOP leaders have balked, saying they won’t consider the recess appointees for full-term positions.

Obama made the recess appointments last year to keep the agency functioning after Senate Republicans vowed to block his nominations to the board. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a sweeping decision in January, ruling that recess appointments can be made only during the once-a-year break between sessions of Congress. It also ruled for the first time that a vacancy must occur during a recess in order to be valid.