OSHA Wins $44 Million Budget Increase

Congress and President Clinton finally reached an agreement on a $351 billion\r\nspending package for a welter of government agencies, including OSHA\r\nand the Department of Labor.

Two and a half months into fiscal year 2001, Congress and President Clinton finally reached an agreement on a $351 billion spending package for a welter of government agencies, including OSHA and the Department of Labor.

As in past years, the Dec. 15 agreement came soon after the Republican- controlled 106th Congress acceded to most of President Clinton''s demands.

Most notably, Congress removed a rider to the Labor appropriations bill that would have prevented OSHA from spending money to issue and enforce its ergonomics standard.

Clinton opposed the rider, and disagreement over the issue helped torpedo a near-deal on the budget just before the November elections.

The president got most of what he wanted in new spending as well, at OSHA as throughout the final budget deal.

Despite the ergonomics dispute, OSHA''s total budget increased from $381.6 million last year to $425.9 million this year.

This amount is precisely what President Clinton requested, although Congress did cut by $1 million the President''s requested increase in the money devoted to federal enforcement efforts.

Final figures show a $152 million budget for federal enforcement, as compared to $141 million last year.

Industry groups abandoned the anti-ergonomics rider once OSHA issued the final ergonomics rule soon after the election.

"It''s both too late and too early for the rider," said one business lobbyist.

It is obviously too late for the rider to stop the rule from being issued, and since the standard will not be enforced until the new fiscal year begins in October of 2001 industry groups figured there was no point in doing anything further until next year.

Industry opponents of the ergonomics rule hope to convince the 107th Congress to pass a resolution that would overturn the rule.

If President Bush signs the measure, the ergonomics rule would cease to exist.

Despite the fiery talk earlier in the year, as disagreements with the President and Congress threatened to spiral out of control, the 106th Congress went out with more of a whimper than a bang.

The huge spending bill was approved by a 292-60 vote in the House, and it passed the Senate on a voice vote.

One of the few Senate voices opposing the final budget agreement was OSHA critic Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.

Enzi said he was "very displeased" with the final package, complaining that most senators were left out of the negotiations and learned of the details only minutes before the final vote.

Topping the list of Enzi''s grievances was the fact that negotiators dropped the ergonomics rider. But the senator vowed not to give up the fight against the ergonomics standard.

"If it is finalized," he said, "I will work with colleagues to overturn it."

by James Nash

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