One month into the new fiscal year, Congress finally passed the last Republican-backed spending bill, one that includes modest funding increases for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). A day later, Nov. 3, President Clinton vetoed the bill funding labor, health and education programs.
According to several Capitol Hill sources, by the time the president and congressional leaders finish negotiating, OSHA's budget will not be too different from what the House and Senate passed.
For OSHA-watchers, what is perhaps most noteworthy about this year's appropriations bill is what it does not contain. Unlike previous years, there is no "rider" calling for a delay in the promulgation of the long-awaited ergonomics standard.
With a 1999 budget of $354 million, OSHA is a minuscule piece of the mammoth multibillion dollar spending bill. Calling it a "catalogue of missed opportunities, misguided priorities and mindless cuts," Clinton issued a long statement detailing the faults of the bill, but he did not mention OSHA.
Despite sharp political rhetoric emanating from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president and Congress are not far apart on OSHA funding. The bill vetoed by Clinton authorized an increase of $16 million for OSHA, $18 million shy of the president's request.
Congress approved modest spending increases in all major categories of OSHA's 2000 budget, when compared to 1999, with one exception: federal assistance to state consultation programs. This was one category of OSHA spending where the president did not request more money; yet, in this category, Congress approved one of its largest spending increases in percentage terms, going from $40 million in 1999 to $43 million in 2000.
Although the final spending levels must be negotiated by Congress and the White House, Patrick Murphy, spokesperson for Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., said he does not anticipate big changes in OSHA spending levels. Ballenger is chair of the House committee on work force protections.
Ergonomics, rather than money, may be more of a stumbling block to negotiators when they get to OSHA spending. Even though ergonomics is not mentioned in the bill and an attempt to delay the ergonomics regulation failed in the Senate, the proposal evidently continues to haunt the halls of Congress and the minds of many legislators.
"I am assuming the ergonomics rider will be discussed in the final negotiations," Murphy said. "I am sure it will be something on the table."