By Dana Milbank
Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, a Tea Party favorite and president of the House Republicans freshman class, got off to a slow start as a legislator but finally introduced his first bill this month.
His draftsmanship should please the people who chant “read the bill” at political rallies, because H.R. 2774 is only one sentence long. In its entirety: “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Legal Services Corporation Act is repealed.”
This one sentence says a great deal about Scott, because it is a transparent attempt by the young lawmaker to defend a company in his district that discriminates against U.S. citizens in favor of Mexican migrant workers. Scott introduced the bill abolishing Legal Services exactly three days after it became public that Legal Services had won a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determination that Georgia’s Hamilton Growers “engages in a pattern or practice of regularly denying work hours and assigning less favorable assignments to U.S. workers, in favor of H2-A guestworkers. Hamilton also “engages in a pattern or practice of discharging U.S. workers and replacing them with H-2A guestworkers,” the EEOC determined.
In a broader sense, Scott’s bill gets at what has long troubled me about the Tea Party movement: It is fueled by populist anger, but it has been hijacked by plutocrats.
During his successful campaign to unseat moderate Democrat Jim Marshall, Scott ran a tough-on-immigration message.
Given that, you’d think Scott would have sided with the 17 U.S. citizens in Georgia who claimed Hamilton Growers illegally dumped them in favor of Mexican workers on H-2A visas.
Legal Services took their case (one of three active cases it has against big growers in Scott’s district), and on July 29, it put out a news release announcing victory. (Settlement negotiations are underway.)
On Aug. 1, Scott introduced his bill.
H.R. 2774 would end the government practice, dating to the Nixon administration, of providing legal assistance to low-income people pursuing equal justice under the law: women seeking protective orders against abusive partners, homeowners fighting foreclosure or predatory lending, and similar civil actions.
Even a number of Republicans see value in Legal Services; 68 of them joined Democrats in defeating an attempt this year to defund Legal Services.
If Scott were true to his Tea Party roots, he would have told the growers to get lost. As one of the American plaintiffs put it: “We worked hard at our jobs and really wanted the work, but Hamilton didn’t want Americans to work in their fields. Americans, after all, would be more likely to know the laws and to complain if they’re being exploited.”
Instead, Scott chose to side with a large employer of foreign migrants in his district – against his out-of-work constituents.
Dana Milbank works for The Washington Post Writers Group. Contact him at email@example.com.