WASHINGTON — On Monday, the U.S. Department of Labor will celebrate two important anniversaries, one of which involves a pioneering labor leader with Maine roots.

On March 4, 1913, President William Howard Taft signed a bill creating the Labor Department. Precisely 20 years later, President Franklin Roosevelt made history by nominating Frances Perkins to be the first woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet post.

Perkins, who is buried in her family’s plot in Newcastle, Maine, was Roosevelt’s labor secretary and one of FDR’s top economic advisers during the Great Depression. She helped steer his New Deal agenda and was pivotal in the creation of Social Security, the establishment of a minimum wage and passage of legislation protecting workers’ right to organize.

The headquarters building of the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., is named for Perkins, who also was the longest-serving labor secretary in U.S. history.

Roosevelt’s letter of March 4, 1933, nominating Perkins contains a single line: “I nominate Frances Perkins of New York to be secretary of labor.” However, an addendum attached to the bottom of the White House stationery by Edwin A. Halsey, the secretary of the Senate in 1933, makes clear this was no typical nomination.

“This is the first instance of a woman being appointed to a Cabinet position,” Halsey wrote.

Perkins was born in Massachusetts, but her family’s roots in Maine date back to the 1700s. She spent most summers at the family home in Newcastle, which now houses the Frances Perkins Center.

Congress urged to ‘feel pain’

Frustrated about Washington’s inability to find a better way to dish out $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts, a state lawmaker fired off a petition last week calling on members of Congress to forgo a chunk of their own pay.

Rep. Diane Russell’s sentiment apparently resonated with others — more than 200,000 others by Saturday afternoon, to be exact.

“As a state politician in Maine, I am seeing first-hand the devastating impact these cuts will have on our local communities,” Russell, D-Portland, wrote in the petition posted on signon.org. “Why should our congressional representatives not feel some of the pain, if they’re so convinced that cuts are the answer? The least they can do is cut their own salaries first.”

Climbing into Medicare

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, began their leadership of the Senate Special Committee on Aging last week by delving into the core issue facing Medicare: delivering quality care to a growing number of seniors without bankrupting the country.

In her opening statement, Collins noted that Medicare accounts for 15 percent of total federal spending today and will only rise as the baby boomer generation ages.

“I’ve opposed past efforts to restructure Medicare in ways that I believe could be harmful to the 50 million American seniors and disabled individuals who rely on the program,” said Collins, the committee’s ranking Republican. “I believe, however, that there are changes that can be made without jeopardizing access to affordable quality health care for our nation’s seniors. The real key to getting Medicare costs under control is to get health care costs under control.”

The committee heard presentations on the need to spend more money on helping seniors prevent such common diseases as diabetes to save money down the road.

In the coming weeks, the committee plans to hold hearings on lottery scams that have stolen untold millions of dollars from seniors across the country, including many in Maine and New England.

Seeking Senate transparency

Freshman U.S. Sen. Angus King has joined an effort to end a Senate tradition that has irked watchdog groups, journalists and curious citizens for years.

In a world of electronic everything, the Senate has rigidly stuck to its policy of allowing senators and candidates to file their campaign spending and fundraising reports in paper form. The result is mountains of paperwork — often arriving by mail days after they were due — that Senate staffers must scan page by page before sending the reports to the Federal Election Commission for posting online.

It sometimes takes weeks — even months — for all the reports to be posted, wasting staff time and plenty of paper.

Watchdog groups have been trying for years to require electronic submission, but with no luck in the stodgy Senate. This year, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is reintroducing his bill to require Senate campaign committees to file electronically, as all other federal campaign committees do.

King, I-Maine, has signed on as a co-sponsor.

“Congressional campaigns are only becoming more expensive, while the transparency of their funding remains murky at best,” King said in a statement. “The result is a regrettable amount of money influencing our elections with voters still asking where it all came from. This common-sense measure will not only ensure candidate accountability and increase transparency for voters, but it will do so in a timely manner while saving taxpayer money.”

Kevin Miller — 317-6256
[email protected]
Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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