OSHA may be moving as slowly as it usually does, but both Congress and the Executive Branch are acting with uncharacteristic dispatch this year when it comes to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill.
The full House voted 220 to 203 on June 8 to accept a rider on the bill that would block OSHA from spending money to promulgate its ergonomics rule.
President Clinton has threatened to veto the House bill, which would grant no spending increases to OSHA and is $44 million under the President''s budget request for the agency.
It is not clear whether the ergonomics rider will survive conference with the Senate, where an attempt to delay ergonomics failed last year. The White House has repeatedly promised to veto any effort to stop ergonomics.
OSHA fared better in the Senate, as the Senate Appropriations Committee approve in late May-- its version of the bill, granting the $44 million increase in OSHA spending the President requested, leaving the agency with a fiscal year budget totaling $426 million.
The appropriations bill is one of the most contentious on the calendar, and in past years the Senate committee usually did not act on it until much later in the year.
Even though the overall spending in the Senate bill is much closer the President''s request, the White House wasted little time in issuing a threat to veto the measure, surprising Senate committee Republicans and Democrats alike.
The veto threat of the Senate bill was tied to spending provisions unrelated to OSHA.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill, said it was very hard work to come up with a spending plan acceptable to everyone.
"Managing this bill is like trying to dodge raindrops in a hurricane," he said at the May 10 subcommittee mark-up. Specter is committed to working with Senate Democrats, and so far his bill has won bi-partisan in the Senate.
The $44 million disparity in OSHA spending contained in the two bills will be worked out in the next few months in a House-Senate conference. Specter''s bi-partisan approach gives him a stronger bargaining position in conference negotiations with the House.
Last year, OSHA''s final budget was very close to the Senate''s bill and the President''s request.
by James Nash