The drive by Senator Bob Dole’s Republicans to take the federal cop off the business beat is encountering heavy weather. It seems the cruel ideologies of S. 343–designed to tie the hands of health and safety enforcement officials—are being taken apart by many citizen groups around the country. The issue is corporate law and order; the stakes are lives, injuries and disease. Federal agencies, whose mission is to prevent cancer, head off workplace injuries and sicknesses and prohibit the sale of defective or polluting products, have survived the 12 years of Reagan/Bush but are barely reawakening. Dole wants to place a permanent layer of bureaucratic chains over them.
When allowed to go into effect, health and safety standards have saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and prevented many more injuries. The auto safety standards alone have saved, since 1966, over 250,000 lives and millions of injuries. Tests of lead in the bodies of Americans have shown dramatic declines since a regulation took lead out of gasoline.
By the reverse token, blocking or delaying other standards, like that relating to air bags, under Reagan has led to tens of thousands of preventable fatalities.
Republicans backing S. 343 are playing a clever game of deception. They do not demand the repeal of these life-sustaining laws. They rather intend to make sure they cannot be implemented.
Roving the halls of Congress, the parents of children who died from eating E. Coli contaminated hamburgers don’t take kindly to such schemes. Nor do other organized relatives of other children and adults who have lost limbs, gotten diseases or lost their lives because corporate power got to the regulators.
The rising public rebellion against the “anything corporations want, they get” missions of the Republican rulers of Congress is sending Bob Dole on the defensive. No, he says, he is not for dirty meat, he is not for cancer, he is not for bad air and water. But the provisions of S.343–rigged cost-benefit formulas, repeals of existing food, pesticide and other safety protections, his exemptions and waivers for special business interests that finance his Presidential campaign- – is nothing less than a surrender to the forces of lawlessness and industrial violence.
Dole trots out the phony figure of regulations costing companies $600 billion annually that was puffed forth by an industry consultant. But he never adds up the benefits of saving lives, injuries and diseases. If he added up the benefits, he would discover– Eureka! — that saving lives is saving money- – health care costs, wage losses to name just two big time categories.
The dirty little secret in Washington is gross under-enforcement of safety standards that are still current and the widespread number of tire, auto, food, workplace, chemical and other standards that are completely obsolete because they have not been upgraded over the past 25 or 50 years.
For example, the tire safety standards were issued in 1969 and never upgraded. Drinking water safety standards are rarely enforced. Most workplaces are not visited by OSHA inspectors for decades. And mid-night dumping or illegal disposal of toxic pollutants are a continuing scandal.
The tide of public opinion is turning against this Republican riot on Capitol Hill. Dole may yet have to pull back S.343 or further weaken its deadly impacts to a level that is unacceptable to his corporate masters.
The smash-corporate-law-and-order movement in Gingrich’s House of Representatives, in the form of an even worse bill to handcuff the federal health and safety officials, already passed there in the Spring. But that was before millions of Americans started finding out what these politicians are really doing to them.