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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Democrats, Role in OSHA Repeal

Columnists and commentators who view themselves as Democratic Party supporters are in an uproar over George W. Bush signing the Congressional repeal of the ergonomics rule. This OSHA regulation is designed to urge and press employers to reduce repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are over one and a half million such injuries in this category a year. Conditions producing these injuries range from chicken processing plants to office workers using computers eight hours a day. A few months ago the National Academy of Sciences issued a report concluding that the link between workplace activities and theses types of painful and sometimes disabling injuries is real.

Along with other safety regulations, President Clinton issued this ergonomic rule after the election and, in this instance, just three days before he was to leave office. This two-minute to midnight activity avoided losing business contributors to the Democrats’ political campaigns, but exposed these standards to false Republican accusations that they were hastily and sloppily issued.

A brief look at the history of the repetitive stress disorder rule will show that it took both Parties to produce this result, not just the Republicans. The proposed ergonomics rule started under the first Bush administration. Industry immediately attacked it. Back and forth for years went the criticisms and responses between the business groups and OSHA. A total of six weeks of public hearings ? almost unprecedented for OSHA was scattered over the Clinton years.

By 1995, the physician, Dr. Barbara Silverstein, working on the rule, believed it was ready to be issued in its final form. But the 1996 election was coming up. The rule was delayed. After the 1996 election it was delayed again and again until its pre-midnight issuance as Bill Clinton was leaving the White House.

Had Al Gore become President, there was no guarantee against even further delay. After all, under Clinton and Gore, OSHA did not issue one toxic control regulation in all eight years of their Administration. But George W. Bush the corporation disguised as a person is in the White House and the expected occurred.

Here again, the Democrats were complicit. Bush and Congressional Republicans speedtracked the repeal of the rule through the Senate and the House under a law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996.

This legislation passed unanimously by the Senate in 1996 and was signed into law by Bill Clinton. It gave Congress a fast-track procedure to overturn health and safety regulations within 60 days of their issuance. Under this law, there are no public hearings in Congress and no amendments permitted. Also, time for debate on the House and Senate floor is time restricted.

Just like the fast track law that propelled NAFTA and GATT through Congress in the mid-Nineties, the CRA is profoundly undemocratic. Yet the Democrats handed Bush and the Republicans in Congress the very tools they used to give the omnipresent business lobbyists their victory. For good measure, six Democratic Senators crossed over and voted to abolish the ergonomic rule and helped the Republicans do this.

Are Democrats having second thoughts about this CRA? Will they file legislation to repeal it? There is no indication at all that they are preparing to go this route even though the Republicans are ready to use this law again to go backwards into their future.

“If it came up again today, I’d vote for it again,” Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) told the Washington Post. “I don’t agree with the results, but I agree with the law,” remarked Senate Democratic Whip Harry M. Reid from Nevada, who teamed up with his Republican counterpart, Senator Don Nickles (R-OK), to ram it through congress in 1996.

The Democrats and their supporters need some introspection.

While some Democrats, like Senator Paul Wellstone, vigorously fought the bankruptcy bill that favors credit card businesses over debtors whose budgets are destroyed by loss of employment or expenses from illnesses, it passed with the votes of 83 Senators, including 33 Democrats.

Is there a Party here or just a collection of Senators who call themselves Democrats and follow the corporate money?

The same Party dissipation among Democrats is at work over Bush’s tax cut for the wealthy, his self-serving drive to end the estate tax, the effort to enact some campaign finance reform by McCain-Feingold and

Bush rode to the White House on slogans. One of which was that he is “a uniter not a divider.” Arriving in Washington, he soon learned that it is much easier to divide the Democrats in order to rule them.