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Panel votes to block new overtime rules

Thu., Sept. 16, 2004

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee voted Wednesday to scuttle new rules that critics say would deny overtime pay to millions of workers, as Democrats won the latest round in their election-year bout with President Bush over the issue.

The 16-13 vote by the Republican-run Senate Appropriations Committee came less than a week after the GOP-led House embarrassed Bush by approving a similar measure.

Despite the twin rebukes by Congress, the provision could well disappear when House-Senate bargainers write a final version of the spending bill to which it was attached. GOP leaders and the White House will dominate that part of the legislative process.

Win or lose, Democrats hope the overtime fight will galvanize their union supporters to vote in the November election.

“Working families across the country are demanding that Bush put their interests above those of big business,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said after the vote.

The reverse effect might also benefit Republicans, who rely on campaign contributions from companies and corporate executives, many of whom favor the new regulations.

The Bush administration and most Republicans support the rules, which took effect Aug. 23. They said the regulations, the most thorough rewrite of the rules in five decades, are a badly needed update.

“We ought to let it run for a while so we can judge what the effect of this rule is,” said Appropriations panel Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Two Republicans joined the committee’s Democrats in voting to derail the overtime rules: Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, seeking re-election this year in a state with a strong labor presence, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, who is retiring.

The language was offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D- Iowa, who said the new rules would remove protection for up to 6 million workers. “They undermine the 40-hour work week,” said Harkin of the rules, adding, “The economic health of too many workers is at stake.”

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., called the estimate of 6 million workers losing overtime “totally bogus.”

The overtime provision was added to a $145.9 billion spending bill financing labor, health and education programs. The overall measure was approved by 29-0.

Last Thursday, the House voted 223-193 to add similar language to its version of the same bill, underscoring the sensitivity that Republicans from labor districts have on the issue.

The White House has threatened a veto of the entire spending bill if the overtime language survives. House leaders have said they believe the provision will be removed from the final House-Senate compromise.


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