Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Bush is Robin Hood

In the most recent bout of reflexive double-speak from the folks that brought you compassionate conservatism and the Clear Skies Initiative (which wreaks havoc on the Clean Air Act), Rupublicans in Congress and in the administration are claiming that Democrats and the labor unions are trying to deny overtime protections for millions of workers.

The specious argument is not technically a lie, but is about as close as you can come without asking for a definition of "is." The controversy centers around the new overtime rules that the Bush Labor Department is planning on implementing in August. While the new rules will increase overtime eligibility for millions of workers by raising the threshold annual salary from $8,060 to $23,660, the new rules will also eliminate overtime guarantees for millions more American workers by exempting entire classes of workers. In fact, in response to mounting pressure, the rules have already been re-written to explicitly guarantee protection to police officers, firefighters, other emergency and public safety workers and licensed practical nurses, groups that would probably have lost protection under the rules as originally written. Despite these concessions, there is still fear that the regulations would eliminate coverage for millions of workers not specifically exempted.

In an effort to allay these fears, the Senate, aided by the defection of five Republican Senators, voted in favor of a catch-all amendment designed to ensure that the new Labor Department regulations would not deny overtime protection to any category of worker now qualified to receive overtime protection (not just those exempted by the Labor Department's re-write).

Surprisingly, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is now trying to construe this blanket exemption as an effort by the Democrats to deny overtime protection to many workers. "The Harkin amendment puts at risk the new, stronger overtime protections for police, firefighters, blue-collar workers and millions of other Americans guaranteed by the department's final rules," Ms. Chao said. "As the issue moves to the House, we will continue to expose the misinformation campaign against the rules and strengthen overtime rights for workers."

So, if I may paraphrase, the Democrats and the labor unions have just put forth an amendment to Labor Department regulations in an effort to help big business at the expense of American workers, but the Bush administration, consistent with its policies and ideology, will not stand for this unabashed attempt at lining the pockets of corporate America at the expense of the little people.

Somewhere, George Orwell just did a cartwheel.

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