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WASHINGTON (AP) – Two leading Senate liberals Wednesday dismissed the Bush administration’s hearings on work-related repetitive strain injuries as a sham, arguing science has already established a connection between working conditions and injuries.

The administration’s 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 administration’s hearings were aimed at supporting a position it has already reached – one that won’t 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 subcommittee’s 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 administration’s 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 Wellstone’s subcommittee, drawing complaints from Wellstone that Chao herself wasn’t 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 Department’s 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 – that’s been endangering worker safety,” boomed Kennedy. ”…I don’t believe we’ve ever had science as clear and convincing as we’ve had on this issue.”

So animated was Kennedy that Wellstone, arguably the Senate’s most liberal member, joked that he had to keep Kennedy in line.

“I’m the moderate on this committee,” he said to laughter.


Labor Department:

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