WASHINGTON (AP) Two leading Senate liberals Wednesday dismissed the Bush administrations hearings on work-related repetitive strain injuries as a sham, arguing science has already established a connection between working conditions and injuries.
The administrations GOP allies countered that Bush was right to take a new look at the issue because more research is needed.
Paul Wellstone and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., suggested the administrations hearings were aimed at supporting a position it has already reached one that wont protect workers.
Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat chairing his first hearing of the Employment, Safety and Training subcommittee since the Democrats took over the Senate, said the administration was looking into questions that have been asked and answered countless times in the past decade.
Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the subcommittees top Republican, said the administration was right to look into whether some injuries were caused outside the workplace.
This is absolutely an administrative not a legislative matter and should be handled accordingly, said Enzi. We should not impede but rather support this process.
In March, with the administrations backing, Congress killed Clinton-era regulations that businesses criticized as too expansive and costly.
The Labor Department is holding a series of hearings aimed at helping Labor Secretary Elaine Chao decide whether to pursue another regulation or a voluntary policy.
On Wednesday, the administration sent Chris Spear, assistant secretary of labor for policy, to testify before Wellstones subcommittee, drawing complaints from Wellstone that Chao herself wasnt present.
Spear said that Chao declined to testify because that would create the impression that minds have already been made up on how to proceed on the issue.
He said that the Labor Departments Occupational Safety and Health Administration rushed through the new standards last year and the Bush administration wants to take a fresh look at the issue.
The administration was wise in starting out with a clean slate, said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark.
But Kennedy, the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, said the administration bears the responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of workers who will be injured on the job this year.
This has been raw political power raw political power thats been endangering worker safety, boomed Kennedy. …I dont believe weve ever had science as clear and convincing as weve had on this issue.
So animated was Kennedy that Wellstone, arguably the Senates most liberal member, joked that he had to keep Kennedy in line.
Im the moderate on this committee, he said to laughter.
Labor Department: http://www.dol.gov
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