Canton Repository

September 10, 2004

Regula, GOP lose key vote on OT

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON  The House voted to block the Bush administration's controversial overtime regulations Thursday, despite arguments from Rep. Ralph Regula that the action could leave workers with no overtime pay at all.

But the vote is only the first step to repealing the rules, which took effect Aug. 23. Although the Senate voted last year to block the initiative, it has yet to take similar action this year.

Bush has threatened to veto any legislation blocking the rules, which updated regulations that the administration said were out of date and promoted litigation.

Backers say the new regulations would guarantee overtime to 1 million additional workers who earn up to $23,660 a year. In the past, the figure was $8,060 a year. Critics, including labor unions, contend that the overhaul will deprive 6 million people of their eligibility for overtime pay.

Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, had a prominent role in the debate, since the provision to block the rules passed as part of a $142.5 billion bill to finance federal spending on health care and education that he sponsored.

Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, and the majority of Republicans in the GOP-controlled House joined Regula in voting against the measure, which was sponsored by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. But 22 Republicans joined every Democrat who voted to pass the measure 223-193.

Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, and Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, voted for the provision. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, was absent.

Regula argued that if the administration's new overtime rules were blocked, employees would be left without any overtime guarantee since the previous regulations are no longer in effect.

"Keep in mind that you're putting 34 million workers at risk who may end up with no coverage for as much as two years," Regula told the House.

Obey disagreed, saying that according to an opinion from the Congressional Research Service, the administration "could reinstitute those (previous) rules on their own volition in one day."

Neither side was willing to predict whether the amendment would survive and become law.

"I don't have a crystal ball," said Regula, who continues to support the new overtime regulations.

Dave Helfert, a spokesman for Obey, said he wouldn't be surprised if congressional negotiators strike the language blocking the overtime rules when they work out differences in House and Senate versions of the bill later in the year.

The larger spending bill sponsored by Regula passed by an unusually strong 388-13 vote. Obey, who voted for the bill, said he would oppose it in the future if Republican leadership removes his language blocking overtime rules.