Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Congressional Crazyness: Fighting Terrorism By Dying In The Workplace

Terrorism has been used as an excuse for a lot of crazy things like limiting civil liberties and even re electing George W. Bush. Now, according to some people in Cloud Cuckooland Congress, it's also an excuse for letting workers die.

One of our favorite Congressmen, Charlie Norwood (R-GA), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, held a hearing last week on voluntary safety programs and contracting out OSHA third-party safety and health audits, where, instead of OSHA inspections, employers could hire third party auditors to inspect their workplace. (After all, it worked so well with Arthur Anderson and Enron, why not try it in every workplace?)

The "highlight" of the hearing was a statement by Congressman John Kline (R-MN), according to a BNA report. Referring to AFL-CIO figures that it would take OSHA 108 years to inspect every worksite under its jurisdiction, Kline said that OSHA does not have the resources. He noted that in light of expanding the nation's defenses against terrorism, the notion of enlarging OSHA to police more worksites is "just not reasonable at this time."

Reasonable? Let's see, in 2003 5,559 workers were killed in workplace "accidents" (not to mention the 50,000 - 60,000 workers who die each year of occupational disease). That means that more people die on the job in this country last year than were killed on 9/11, in Afghanistan and in Iraq put together. OSHA's budget request this year is somewhere between $400 and $500 million, while we're spending around $5 billion a month in Iraq.

Sounds pretty damn reasonable to me to spend a few more bucks to hire more OSHA inspectors.

Let's be clear. We're talking about spending tax dollars to save lives here, not to extend a highway in Kansas or build a new library in Toledo. But according to Congressman Kline and his cronies, it's more important to push through tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminate the inheritance tax for the super wealthy than it is to spend a few more dollars to save the lives of American workers. War on terrorism and all that, you know.

Ezra Klein points out an article in the American Prospect by Geoffrey Nunberg that criticizes Democratic politicians for not actively defending necessary government programs:
Republicans will try to pin a big-government label on the Democrats, but the appropriate response to that is not to apologize for government, as some liberals have recently done, but rather to call the Republicans’ bluff. Kerry just once might have responded to Bush’s charge that he was a big-government liberal not just by denying that his health-care plan was a government takeover but by bearding Bush on his government-bashing. “Just which government programs are too big?” he might have said. “What should we do away with? Social Security? Medicare? The Food and Drug Administration? The Securities and Exchange Commission? The Environmental Protection Agency?”

We should make all these guys work in an unprotected 15-foot deep trench for a week