Joe Biden once said “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget — and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Yesterday, Republicans told American workers what they value: More workplace injury, illness and death, more child labor, and fewer unions.

House Appropriations Committee Republicans released the draft fiscal year 2024 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding bill yesterday, which will be considered in subcommittee today. The bill cuts OSHA funding by $95 million, a 15% cut that would bring the agency’s funding level down to $537 million. OSHA’s budget hasn’t been at that low level since 2009 (aside from the sequestration year of 2013 when OSHA’s budget was cut to $535 million). Even at its current budget level, OSHA is a tiny agency with a paltry budget — and an enormous mandate:  the safety and health of 158 million workers at more than 10.9 million workplaces.

The Republican budget represents an unprecedented scorched-earth action that’s hard to comprehend, even in these days of a MAGA-controlled House of Representatives.

Republicans told American workers what they value: More workplace injury, illness and death, more child labor, and fewer unions.

Under OSHA’s current budget, most employers can depend on almost never seeing an OSHA inspector unless one of their workers is killed, hospitalized or unless a worker files a complaint. The AFL-CIO estimates the it would take 190 years for OSHA to inspect every workplace in the country just once. Republicans seem to be striving to increase that number to 300 years.

To put this in perspective, President Biden had proposed a 17% increase in OSHA’s FY 2024 budget.

It’s unclear at this time where the specific cuts in the OSHA budget will come. All we know so far is that the budget line item for funding OSHA’s 27 state plans remains at the FY 2023 level of $120 million, so presumably most of the cuts would come out of enforcement and standards. In addition, Republicans always attempt to eliminate the Susan Harwood Worker Training Grant program when they’re in control, so it’s highly likely they’ll try to kill the program this year as well.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration will face a 29% cut, replacing the mythical “war on coal” with a very real “war on coal miners.”

The Mine Safety and Health Administration will face a 29% cut, replacing the mythical “war on coal” with a very real “war on coal miners.”

The budget of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which conducts workplace safety and health research, would be slashed by 30%. I guess workers will just have to do their own research.

And for good measure, the DOL Office of the Solicitor, which works on defending enforcement actions and developing and defending DOL regulations, would be cut by 25%. The budget of the already cash-starved National Labor Relations Board would be cut by one-third.

So we undermine OSHA’s ability to issue standard, hollow out their ability to enforce current standards, and ensure that the agency doesn’t have the means to defend any enforcement actions or standards in court.

More Child Labor

Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, Republicans on the House Education and Workforce (sic) Committee spend quite some time in a hearing yelling at Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su for not doing enough about the growing scourge of child labor.

Several Republicans suggested that the Department of Labor was not doing enough to address a reported surge in companies employing children, particularly migrants, in dangerous jobs, which Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana called “the biggest humanitarian crisis in American history.”

Their solution to not doing enough? Do less.

The Republican solution to not doing enough about child labor? Do less.

The Republican bill cuts the budget of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division — the agency that enforces child labor protections — by $75 million, almost 30%.

Undermining Women. And Democracy Abroad

But just for good measure, the Republican’s war on workers doesn’t stop at ocean’s edge. Republicans are also proposing to eliminate DOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) which supports worker rights abroad. And Republicans are extending their war on women to the workplace as they propose to eliminate the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

And More…

But the Labor-H appropriations bill is a gift that keeps on giving — especially for women and children (or at least already-born children.) According to House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT),

“When 161 House Republicans voted earlier this year to eliminate all K-12 funding at the Department of Education, I was horrified, but that was just the beginning. Now, in the midst of a teacher shortage, they have introduced a bill that would kick 220,000 teachers from classrooms. We are witnessing a widespread attack on public education that should horrify all of us. Regardless of age or stage in life, this bill means you cannot count on government for any help.  It limits women’s access to abortion while stripping maternal health services and making diapers more expensive. It decimates access to preschool, education, and job training. People can only hope they do not get cancer or need mental health services—you will not find support from House Republicans. These awful cuts will make it very hard for people and should not even be considered by this committee.”

But never fear, according to Republicans, “The bill protects life, promotes American values, prioritizes medical research, and combats the opioid epidemic.”

Protects life? Not workers’ lives. Maybe the “lives” of zygotes and embryos, but not the lives of mothers, fathers, sons or daughters who won’t return from work at the end of the day.

And since when is promoting workplace carnage and children dying in the workplace an “American value?”

But at least the Republican bill prohibits the use of funds to promote or advance Critical Race Theory. Many workers’ lives will be saved as a result.

What’s Happening?

Wait, you say. Didn’t you just write a few weeks ago that the Debt Ceiling agreement between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy would result in a flat OSHA budget? That would have been very bad, but not the catastrophic numbers we’re seeing in today’s bill.

That was then. This is now. It seems the ultra-right wing House Freedom Caucus didn’t appreciate McCarthy’s efforts. After shutting down the House for a week last month, several House Freedom Caucus members sent a letter to Speaker Kevin McCarthy pledging to vote against any appropriation bill funded at debt ceiling levels and would agree only to FY2022 funding levels without rescissions. And Kevin McCarthy’s top — and only — priority is to remain Speaker of the House. By whatever means necessary.

For OSHA and other agencies, the numbers in the bill don’t just take agency budget back a year, but back over a decade or further.

Of course, for OSHA and other agencies, the numbers in the bill don’t just take agency budget back a year, but back over a decade or further. Overall, the whole bill — which covers budgets for the Departments of Labor and Education, as well as parts of other agencies — was the lowest for the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies bill since 2008.

What’s Next?

Don’t despair. Yet.

We’re still a long way from the end. First, the full bill must pass that House. Given the Republicans’ razor thin majority and the fact that some Republican moderates may think the Freedom Caucus has gone to far, it’s not clear that the current bill will receive enough Republican votes to pass on the House floor.

If it does pass the House, the  Senate will need to agree with the House on a bill. There is no way the Democrat-controlled Senate will come close to agreeing to this bill.  And the Republican scorched earth budgets will be limited to just the Labor and Education bill. In other words, a government shut-down is looking more and more likely.

To make matters worse, the Debt Ceiling agreement also stipulated that  if Congress can’t pass all 12 appropriation bills by next year, a 1% spending cut across the board would be automatically applied.

Bottom line. Remember next election day that elections have consequences. Often deadly consequences.


2 thoughts on “House Republican Budget Declares War on Workers”
  1. It gets harder and harder to get through the nightly news and still stay calm. Thanks for these posts. Upsetting but helpful.

  2. Are Republicans really what is holding us back in safety?
    A certain manufacturing facility is knowingly exposing its employees to serious safety and health hazards. The retirement funds of three different states, including the state in which that facility is located, are invested in the private equity firm that owns that plant. That means that the state OSHA employees in this state are potentially making money off this facility. The CEO, despite poor financial results, continued investing in safety and was ultimately run off by the private equity firm and replaced by one of that firm’s own.
    This scenario is playing out routinely. The private equity firm and its investors are shielded. Threatening to throw executives and managers in jail and it will not fix the problem. There will always be someone willing to take the risk for a nice salary doing the bidding of investors.
    So, is the private equity the bad guy here? Well, they have actually made big investments in that facility and employees there have a much safer workplace, despite its present shortcomings. Fixing all of the inherent problems when they bought it would have cost 8 figures, but they chose to keep it open and provide jobs to the locals. An argument could be made they should have bulldozed the plant and built it elsewhere.
    From the outside, one could look at the facility and easily point the figure at the negligent local management. But, its not that simple. The managers think they are actually doing good for people because they are steadily improving conditions for the employees.
    There are numerous old facilities in this country that would not be good investments if buyers would be expected to fix every compliance issue before opening the doors. Bulldozing these facilities and rebuilding means local economies could be crushed.
    It’s a complex problem. More OSHA regs and Democrats in Congress will not solve it. It’s a “system” problem. At the end of the day, investors at all levels need to educate themselves about where their money is invested. I wonder how many OSHA employees have expressed outrage over where their retirement money is coming from? It’s much easier to point the finger at evil executives who are simply doing their bidding to make them retirement money. Anyone who thinks their retirement funds are coming at the expense of others in some way or form is naïve.

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