The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is pulling out all the stops in an uphill fight to overturn OSHA''s ergonomics rule on Capitol Hill before the standard takes effect in October.
At a Feb. 20 Washington, D.C., press briefing NAM Vice President Pat Cleary, said his association is now focusing its energies on this quick strike against the rule, instead of the more costly and time-consuming legal challenge to the standard.
"Our member companies are really hanging out there," said Cleary. "They''re wondering what to do -- if they''ve got to comply by a date certain they''ve got to start spending an enormous amount of money --needlessly."
The Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA) gives Congress the authority to kill the ergonomics standard this spring, well before the rule''s October compliance date. The legal challenge to the ergonomics regulation is not expected to be resolved until next year.
To win this battle, NAM and its industry allies must convince a majority of House and Senate members to pass a "joint resolution of disapproval. If the president does not veto the resolution, an agency regulation becomes "null and void."
Congress has never used this power before, in part because until now there was a president in office ready to back up his agencies'' rules with a veto. The inauguration of President George W. Bush has changed all that.
Opponents of the ergonomics standard won a major victory on Capitol Hill last year when they convinced slim majorities in both the House and Senate to attach an anti-ergonomics rider to the Department of Labor''s appropriation bill. The rider was eventually dropped from the final bill because of former President Clinton''s objections to it.
A Weapon of Mass Destruction
Despite their success in Congress last year, it is far from certain that NAM and its industry allies will succeed in convincing a majority of House and Senate members to use the CRA to kill the ergonomics bill this year.
No decision to bring the matter up has been made on the House side, according to a well-placed Republican aide. "Any decision will be made in conjunction with the Bush Administration -- but it is on the table," the aide added.
Support from the Bush Administration is obviously crucial to the success of the effort, but Cleary said at the press briefing that NAM has not yet even asked the president about the matter.
While still a candidate, Bush stated his opposition to OSHA''s ergonomics standard, but it does not necessarily follow that he would support using the CRA to undo an existing federal regulation.
A labor lobbyist deeply involved in the debate offered one reason why the president and Republican lawmakers might shrink from this fight: if the CRA is approved, OSHA would be barred from issuing a "substantially similar" ergonomics rule forever.
"We think this tool is akin to a weapon of mass destruction that is best left in the silo," the lobbyist said.
The NAM''s chief ergonomics lobbyist, Jenny Krese, counters that preventing OSHA from producing another ergonomics standard like the one on the books "is the beauty of the CRA." She added that NAM is not opposed to an ergonomics standard, so long as it is "substantially different" from the one OSHA published last year.
by James Nash
(Tomorrow, find out about the CRA''s prospects in the new Congress).