Senate to Debate Repeal of Ergonomics Regulation Today
Amid lobbying efforts from business and labor groups, the Senate was expected to begin debate this morning on a "controversial" resolution to repeal the Clinton administration's ergonomics rule, which some Republicans have called unscientific, "overly broad and costly," CongressDaily reports. Republicans plan to use the Congressional Review Act -- which allows Congress to reject federal regulations in the 60 days after the executive branch issues them -- to overturn the rule. While the procedure leaves opponents with "few opportunities to resist," limiting debate to 10 hours and preventing a filibuster, key Democrats have vowed to defeat the measure on the floor. "There's nothing we can do to stop this (from coming up)," a spokesperson for Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) conceded, but a spokesperson for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said that the senator has initiated a "very serious lobbying effort" to defeat the resolution when it reaches the floor.
Hoping to target "wavering" Democrats and moderate Republicans, Kennedy released a "Dear Colleague" letter, arguing, "If Congress overturns the ergonomics rule under CRA, [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] may not adopt any substantially similar rule without express congressional authorization. It's an all or nothing proposition." However, a GOP Senate aide said that repeal of the egonomics rule "does not prohibit OSHA from regulating in this area in the future" as long as any future rules are not "substantially similar" to the current regulation. Some Democrats had hoped to filibuster the motion to proceed with the resolution, but Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove called the motion to proceed "not debatable."
Republicans said that they could "garner a majority" to overturn the ergonomics rule. According to one GOP aide, "We wouldn't set off down this path if we didn't know how it was going to turn out" (Earle/Koffler, Congress Daily, 3/5). GOP moderates, including Sens. James Jeffords (R-Vt.), Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have expressed support for the resolution. Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), although still undecided, has opposed the rule in the past. "I have no reason to believe that he has changed his mind on the issue since last year," a Chafee spokesperson said. However, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who has not indicated his position on the resolution, may oppose the measure. "We may lose Arlen, but all the rest are signed on," Senate Republican Policy Committee Chair Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said. GOP leaders also hope to "peel off" a few Democrats. "We'll get a lot of votes on both sides of the aisle on this one," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said, predicting that some Democrats would "come on board" because the regulation "usurped the will of Congress on the issue." Among Democrats, Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) has indicated that he will vote to repeal the rule, while Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who have opposed the regulation in the past, remain undecided. An aide to Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) also said that the senator would likely vote to repeal the rule. Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) declined to comment on his position.
President Bush, who must approve measures passed under the Congressional Review Act, has not "weighed in" on the resolution to "scuttle" the ergonomics rule (Earle/Fulton, CongressDaily/A.M., 3/6). However, the Wall Street Journal reports that in a private meeting with Republican leaders last Tuesday, Bush "signed off" on the plan. During the 2000 election campaign, businesses -- which oppose the ergonomics rule -- donated more than 80% of the $314 million donated to the GOP. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, groups that have argued against the regulation, also "mounted major" advertising campaigns for Republicans. While Bush administration officials argue that they will take action "strictly on the merits [of the rule], not the money," business lobbyists admit that "it's no accident" that Republicans have "mov[ed] quickly" to address the issue (Hamburger et al, Wall Street Journal, 3/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.