The first big test of bipartisanship in the equally divided Senate, and the first time Vice President Dick Cheney may have to cast his tie-breaking vote, is set to come this week not over taxes, but over carpal tunnel syndrome.
A titanic legislative battle is shaping up, pitting big business against labor unions in a tussle over workplace ergonomics regulations designed to cut down on repetitive stress injuries. The rules were OK'd by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the final days of the Clinton White House.
Republicans, who've been itching to reverse many of Clinton's 11th-hour regulations and executive orders, have decided that the OSHA rules will be their first target. Using the obscure Congressional Review Act that he got passed five years ago, Senate Republican Whip Don Nickles wants to have a vote this week to overturn the regulations, which went into effect Jan. 16. Businesses are howling that the 1,688 pages of standards they must meet could cost over $100 billion a year. But the opposition, citing figures of 600,000 people a year laid up by the injuries, is ready to dig in its heels. Repetitive-stress injuries from stretching, bending and typing are "the most significant safety and health problem that workers face today," argues Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.