Tuesday, November 14, 2006

People Get Ready, Oversight's Coming...

I never fail to get a chuckle when reading the National Association of Manufacturers blog, written by NAM VP Pat Cleary. For the past several years Pat writes the same post, criticizing John Sweeney for pouring the hard-earned wages of American workers down the political sinkhole, only to lose election after election.

Being as Pat can no longer write that story, he's moved on to criticizing labor's agenda in the new Congress. Clearly having his finger on the pulse of the American electorate (not!), Pat made this statement in this morning's post about post-election "union demands" on Congress:
First and foremost, there's oversight, a big fat waste of time that will find little appetite among the general public. Not why they sent Dems to Washington.
Actually, Pat, with political appointees and corporate contractors doing "a heck of a job" from the city of New Orleans to the sands of Iraq to the mines of West Virginia, to the wasteland of the Department of Homeland Security, that's exactly why the sent Dems to Washington. No appetite? People are starving for oversight.

Washington Post and Bloomberg News columnist Cindy Skrzycki understands that a new day has dawned:
Business lobbyists have been powerful players with the Congress and the White House under Republican control the past six years. The emphasis was on minimal regulation, easy access to federal rulemakers, many of whom came from industry, and almost no congressional oversight.

There were occasional bursts of activity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the collapse of Enron Corp . and coal mine disasters. But for the most part, business interests were able to constrain new rules or put their imprint upon them. And many workplace-safety rules proposed by the Clinton administration were shelved.

"I can't be happier," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors regulatory policy. "The public wins. Some of these political appointees are going to have to learn what oversight is."
And workplace safety issues may be receiving some special attention:
One notable change in direction is expected from Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat and the incoming head of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where he has been the ranking minority member for six years.

"It's been clear there has been no oversight; not even mildly aggressive oversight," said Miller, whose panel oversees regulatory policy at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Under Rep. Charlie Norwood, a Republican from Georgia, the subcommittee on workforce protections held hearings devoted to issues such as recovery of legal fees for small-business owners "when they contest unjust OSHA citations and prevail in court."

Miller said in an interview that he doesn't have a lengthy agenda but that he wants to examine the value of voluntary compliance programs and self-reporting of OSHA violations by employers.

Labor unions are expected to get some of their issues back on the agenda, especially because Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, will head the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
One good topic to start off with might be whether OSHA has responded to a 2004 Government Accountability Office report that found that there was no evidence that OSHA's much venerated alliances and voluntary programs are actually effective in preventing workplace accidents.

And finally, Skrzycki quotes this rather amusing "sky is falling" alert:
"These are the same folks who brought us the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and top-down regulatory control schemes," said Andrew Langer, manager of regulatory policy for the National Federation of Independent Business, one of the lobbies closest to the Republicans.
Well, Andy, that's not precisely true. An early version of the Endangered Species Act, the Endangered Species Preservation Act was passed in 1966, but the real Endangered Species Act, as we know it today, was passed in 1973 and signed by President Richard Nixon. And the first Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments were passed in 1972 and signed by...Richard Nixon, although they were amended in 1977 into what became commonly known as the Clean Water Act. Oh, and then there was the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 -- signed by Richard Nixon.

Those were the days when some Republican lawmakers actually cared about the lives of workers and the fate of the earth, as opposed to "important issues" like Terry Schiavo, same sex marriage, flag burning and the rights of zygote-Americans.