House Republican leaders moved quickly Wednesday to follow the Senate''s lead and repeal OSHA''s ergonomics standard aimed at protecting workers from repetitive motion injuries.
In a 223-206 vote, the House backed the repeal bill with 16 Democrats voting to support repeal despite pressure from organized labor.
To bring the workplace rules to a vote, Senate Republicans adopted the little-used Congressional Review Act that blocks any opportunity for delay, filibuster or compromise.
Passage by both the House and Senate now sends the bill to President Bush, who has indicated that he would sign it.
This would be the first piece of substantive legislation President Bush will have the chance to sign since taking office a little more than six weeks ago.
Under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, OSHA is prohibited from issuing another rule that is "substantially similar" to this one but leaves the door open for one with a different approach.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has said that she will "pursue a comprehensive approach to ergonomics, which my include new rulemaking that addresses the concerns levied against the current standards."
In the debate, Republicans said the standard could cost more than $100 billion a year to implement and would cause layoffs and force many companies into bankruptcy.
Democrats praised the rules, saying they would eliminate almost one-third of the 1.8 million repetitive motion injuries suffered each year.
Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky., who was leading the charge against the rule in the house said the Clinton Administration regulations would cause "extreme damage to our workplaces."
Opposition "gets stronger because more and more members are understanding this rule lacks balance," said Northup. "You''d be surprised how many understand how this could push our best jobs offshore, which are often manufacturing jobs."
OSHA''s new ergonomics regulation has been the subject of a decade-long political fight.
Organized labor tried to mobilize against the repeal in Congress but the House vote was a major victory for business which argued the rule would cost too much money to implement.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the decision to repeal the ergonomics standard was alarming because it "was done with only a few hours of debate in each chamber over just two days -- and over the voices of workers representing millions who have suffered from injuries on the job."
"We will be relentless in shining a spotlight on the actions of this Congress," continued Sweeney. "No member who votes to abandon the people who elected him or her should expect the votes of working families in upcoming elections."
Calling OSHA''s ergonomics regulation "possibly the worst rule ever put out by the federal government," the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) applauded the House vote to overturn the regulation.
"The bipartisan vote was a triumph of reason and common sense that turned back an exceptionally flawed regulation," said NAM President Jerry Jasinowksi. "From the start, OSHA was wrong on the substance and wrong on the process, and we couldn''t be more pleased that Congress has voted to scrap this expensive and unworkable rule."
The Alliance of American Insurers (AAI) also praised the vote to overturn the ergonomics rule but said it advocates the development of individualized and voluntary ergonomics programs.
"Perhaps what''s best about this whole debate is that it has focused attention on ergonomics," said Keith Lessner, AAI vice president of Safety and Environmental. "We''re looking forward to doing everything we can to help OSHA create a good rule that improves workplace safety without crippling businesses or the state workers'' compensation system."
by Virginia Sutcliffe