Ergonomics Rules at Heart of Dispute over Spending Bills
President Clinton on Oct. 30 vetoed an $18.1 billion bill funding the operations of the Treasury Department, White House and Congress -- a move that seems "to come in retaliation" for the collapse of a compromise on the Labor, Education and HHS appropriations bill over a provision on workplace ergonomics rules, the New York Times reports. White House officials and bipartisan negotiators from the House and Senate Appropriation Committees had "hammered out" a final compromise on the Labor-HHS-Education bill late Sunday night, but that "tentative agreement fell apart less than 12 hours after it was reached, as Republican leaders balked" at the ergonomics provision, intended to protect workers from "injuries associated with repetitive motion activities" (Holmes, New York Times, 10/31). The Labor Department is "poised to promulgate" the new standards -- originally released last November -- next month, and the compromise reached Sunday night would have allowed the process to proceed but prevented enforcement of the rules until June 2001, when the next president is in office. Though Republicans "feel confident" that if they win the White House they will be able to make changes in the standards, the business community "wants to deny labor the added leverage unions would have if the rules are first put in place and published in the Federal Register" before Clinton departs. As a result, "top representatives" of business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Association yesterday "flooded Capitol Hill with calls" protesting the compromise. "The opinion of the business community was unanimous: This so-called compromise was not a compromise," Randy Johnson, Chamber lead lobbyist on labor issues, said. The Wall Street Journal notes that with the election just a week away, the Chamber's word is "powerful," as the group is running a television advertising campaign in support of Republican candidates that could ultimately total nearly $20 million. Clinton's veto of the Treasury and legislative branch bill, which contains a $3,800 annual pay raise for lawmakers, increases the likelihood that Congress will have to return for a "lame-duck" session after the election, the Wall Street Journal reports (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 10/31). Because Clinton had previously agreed to sign the bill, the veto also is "bound to further poison the atmosphere between the White House and Congress" (New York Times, 10/31). That may leave a $240 billion, 10-year tax cut bill, which includes a provision that would restore about $30 billion in Medicare funds to providers and HMOs, "caught in the middle" (Wall Street Journal, 10/31). While Republican congressional leaders and Clinton have held "no talks" on the tax bill, the GOP has vowed to "negotiate but not capitulate" to the president in the year-end "tax battle," AP/Investor's Business Daily reports. "He's basically saying, 'Give me what I want, or I'm going to keep you here.' And we're prepared to say, 'Fine, we'll stay,'" Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said. "If he's going to veto it, he's going to veto it," Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) added. Clinton has called the Medicare "giveback" provision "unacceptable" because it provides "too much" for HMOs at the expense of health providers and has promised to reject the legislation (AP/Investor's Business Daily, 10/31). Despite the president's veto warnings, the GOP "still hopes to salvage" the tax legislation. Although Republicans refuse to open the entire bill for negotiation, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has agreed to "modest 'fixes'" that could be attached to the education and labor budget (Wall Street Journal, 10/31).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.