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Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004-Conference Report

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2004-CONFERENCE REPORT

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, it had been my hope we would have eliminated the overtime pay provision, because I believe it is not a good idea, with the economy just beginning to recover-obviously fragile-to be denying many American working men and women overtime pay.

This issue came before my subcommittee, Labor, Health, Human Services and Education. By a vote of 54-46, the Harkin amendment was passed, which prohibited any funding to implement the new regulation on overtime pay. There is no doubt it would be useful to revise the regulation with the view to limiting and reducing litigation. We had an extensive hearing yesterday. The Secretary of Labor testified. We analyzed the current regulations, we analyzed the new regulations, and it was apparent the new regulations will not do anything to reduce the litigation. There are still the same ambiguities regarding the various categories of personnel, making it evident from the course of the very extensive hearing we had yesterday that the objective of reducing litigation will not be accomplished by the new regulations.

In approaching the cloture vote, we are not between a rock and a hard place. We have an impossible situation because, either way we go, we are going to have this regulation, unless there can be a negotiated change with the administration. After making that effort repeatedly for months, I do not think that is a realistic possibility. We are faced with this regulation whether we pass the Omnibus Appropriation bill or not. If we do not pass the Omnibus appropriation bill, then we will have a continuing resolution, and the continuing resolution will leave in effect the current funding for the Department of Labor, Health, Human Services and Education, and all of the other departments that are affected by the Omnibus bill. With a continuing resolution, there will not be any provision to prohibit the implementation of the regulation.

If the alternative is followed, the result will be the same. If you have the Omnibus appropriation bill in its present form, which does not have the prohibition against implementing this overtime regulation, then the regulation goes into effect. So either way you go, you have the regulation. So that we are not between a rock and a hard place; we are faced with this regulation on either alternative.

If we do not pass this Omnibus appropriation bill, there will be very many important projects that will not be funded. If you take the Department of Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education, and the subcommittee which I chair, there is an addition of $3.7 billion this year, with substantial additional funding for the National Institutes of Health, with substantial additional funding for education, and substantial additional funding for Head Start. We really do not have a choice.

Last November, when the omnibus was taken up, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Chairman Young, the chairman of the subcommittee, Chairman Regula, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Stevens, and I met and tried diligently to work out an accommodation to delay implementation of this regulation until the end of the fiscal year. We were not asking for very much. Now it is January 21, and the Secretary of Labor says the regulation will be ready for being promulgated on March 31. I doubt very much that will happen. Yesterday, in the course of the hearing, I asked the Secretary a detailed set of questions to see how many comments she had. Reportedly, it was some 80,000. After the regulation is promulgated by the Department of Labor, it has to go through the OMB, and that takes a long time. At March 31, we already will have half of the fiscal year gone. It will not be much of a concession by the administration to allow this regulation to not be put into effect until the end of this fiscal year and to take up the alternative legislation, which I have introduced, that would provide for a commission. But we face a situation where we have been unsuccessful in months of negotiations to try to effect a change on this issue.

This is part of the political process. It would have been my hope that the Secretary, who comes to our subcommittee with frequent requests that we have accommodated to the maximum extent possible, in the spirit of reciprocity would have accommodated us for a few short months. But in view of the fact that this regulation will take effect whether we pass the omnibus or not, the continuing resolution will leave the regulation in effect. The Omnibus appropriations bill will leave the regulation in effect.

It is obviously preferable to have the omnibus pass, where we have the additional funding, $3.7 billion, for the subcommittee for very important items. That is why I feel constrained, notwithstanding my very strong objections to this regulation on overtime pay.

I think it is not appropriate, not really fair to the American working men and women that a few extra months were not commissioned to try to bring some clarity. I agree with the proposition that we ought to take every step we can to clarify the regulations to eliminate litigation. But on this state of the record, the least undesirable alternative is to have cloture
imposed and to try to pass this bill.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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