All 50 Republican senators and six Democrats voted Tuesday under the Congressional Review Act to overturn OSHA''s ergonomics standard.
Just as the Senate began debate yesterday to rescind the standard, Republican opponents of the rule pulled out a trump card, dramatically increasing their chances of success.
With the release of a statement from the Office of Management Budget (OMB), the Bush Administration is now on record as supporting the joint resolution of disapproval (JRD) that must be approved by majorities in the House and Senate, and signed by the president, to undo the ergonomics standard.
The White House issued a statement Tuesday saying the OSHA regulations "would cost employers, large and small, billions of dollars annually while providing uncertain new benefits."
Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., Senate majority whip, said the ergonomics standard was the "most intrusive, expensive and job-killing regulation ever handed down by OSHA."
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Ky., who spearheaded the effort to pass the JRD, said, "This is a battle won with people from both sides of the aisle joining together against bureaucratic lawmaking and a rule so onerous it would hurt the people it has been advertised to help. I hope the House and President Bush will quickly follow suit so we can finally be rid of this unworkable, unreasonable rule."
In support of the effort to kill OSHA''s regulation, the OMB statement cited the standard''s high costs and uncertain benefits.
GOP senators justified their opposition by repeatedly arguing that the standard would interfere with state worker''s compensation programs, a violation of their vision of state''s rights as well as the OSH Act itself.
In another significant development yesterday, the Department of Labor released a letter from Secretary Elaine Chao in which she promised that if the JRD succeeds she would "pursue a comprehensive approach to ergonomics, which may include new rulemaking" to address the concerns levied against the current standard.
In her letter, addressed to Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Chao did not state she supported the unprecedented congressional effort to overturn a regulation issued by her department in the final months of the Clinton administration.
For his part, Nickles did not appear enthusiastic about the possibility of replacing the current ergonomics standard with another one. He said there were many things OSHA could do "to encourage" employers to address ergonomic problems in the workplace, without issuing another standard.
OSHA has estimated the rules would cost businesses about $4.5 billion in compliance costs but would result in $9 billion in benefits by reducing injuries.
Business groups opposed to the regulations put the cost of compliance much higher, at more than $90 billion a year.
by James Nash and Virginia Sutcliffe