Foes of Ergo Rule Eye Political Options

What will happen to OSHA's ergonomics standard? According to Washington insiders, everything depends upon who wins the presidential election.

Die-hard industry groups opposed to OSHA''s ergonomics standard are suing the agency to block implementation of the final rule, and this legal challenge is now the centerpiece of their strategy.

But opponents of the rule still have a couple of political arrows in their quiver and they may yet get a chance to shoot them.

According to Washington insiders, everything depends upon who wins the presidential election.

If Al Gore is the next president, industry opponents to OSHA''s rule and their Republican allies are not likely to admit defeat in the political arena, fold up their tent and go home. But the chances of stopping the ergonomics rule by legislation would be minimal.

If Texas Governor George W. Bush wins the presidency, congressional Republicans still have two weapons to kill the hated rule.

Congress and President Clinton have not agreed on whether to keep the anti-ergonomics rider in the Labor appropriations bill. In fact, it was the breakdown of negotiations on this very issue that forced Congress to go home for the elections without finishing work on the bill.

The ergonomics rider, which has been approved by both the House and the Senate but is opposed by President Clinton, prevents OSHA from spending any money to "implement or enforce" the ergonomics standard. Congress could continue to insist the rider remain in the bill and this would prevent the ergonomics rule from taking effect until October of next year.

The second political option for opponents of the rule is more drastic, more effective, and more difficult.

The Congressional Review Act allows simple majorities in both the House and the Senate to nullify a regulation. The only catch is "the joint resolution of disapproval" has to be signed by the President.

Neither President Clinton nor Vice President Gore would ever sign such a measure, but George W. Bush has said he is opposed to a federal ergonomics regulation.

Congress has never passed a joint resolution of disapproval, but the uproar over ergonomics has provoked lawmakers to consider this option, according to a Republican staff member on the Senate Committee on Small Business.

In the meantime, high level negotiations are currently underway to determine the fate of the anti-ergonomics rider.

No legislation will be passed until Dec. 5 when Congress will be back for its "lame-duck" session.

Public word on the ergonomics deal is unlikely before that date also, according to a senate committee staffer.

"It will be like the College of Cardinals -- they''ll send up a puff of smoke and say the deal is done."

by James Nash

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