As we yet again approach the possibility of a Republican inspired government shutdown, suspending numerous government services and keeping millions of workers — including American soldiers — from being paid, even though many will be forced to continue working.
Let’s look at the most important issue: How the current budget process affects workplace safety and OSHA.
The federal government is funded with 12 separate Appropriations bills that must be passed before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Back in the day, when things were functioning properly in Congress, each bill would get a separate vote before September 30. That was then.
For the past several decades, however, Congress has never managed to meet the September 30 deadline, resulting in one or more Continuing Resolutions (or CRs) which kick the can down the road for few weeks or months. And then most or all of the the separate bills eventually get rolled in one “Omnibus” bill.
Right now, we’re operating under a CR that was passed on a bipartisan basis right before the government shut down at the end of September — a CR that led to the firing of then Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (because he had to depend on Democrat’s help to keep the government open), and brought into power our current right-wing radical Speaker, MAGA Mike Johnson.
The current CR runs out at the end of this week. Johnson has pledged to pass all 12 appropriations bills separately instead of depending on a CR, but none have passed yet (even with a Republican majority), and it’s unlikely that the process will be completed by the end of the week. And it’s unlikely that whatever the House passes that would satisfy enough of the fringe right members would be palatable in the Senate.
What happens then is unclear. Either a shutdown, or another CR, but some Republicans refuse to vote for a CR unless it is accompanied by drastic budget cuts that Democrats who control the Senate will never agree to. In other words, Johnson is in the same pickle that doomed McCarthy. He can’t keep the government open without support from Democrats — which could torpedo his speakership as well.
Republican OSHA Budget
That’s the background. Meanwhile, Republicans how to bring the Labor, Health and Human Services (or Labor-H) appropriations bill up for a vote this week. As we reported earlier, this bill as currently written is terrible.
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.
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.
But that’s just the bill as originally written. The current amendment process seeks to make it much, much worse.
Mary Miller: Amending OSHA Into the Dustbin of History
One Republican Member, Mary Miller of Illinois, has submitted two amendments: One would cut OSHA Assistant Secretary Doug Parker’s salary to $1. A year. And I know from experience, it’s hard to feed and house your family for $1 in the Washington DC area.)
But even Doug’s salary would be a dollar more than OSHA is getting if Mary Miller has her way. She’s also introduced an amendment that would zero out OSHA’s entire budget. She’s joined by Arizona Republican Andy Biggs in attempting to eliminate the worker protection agency. (On the other hand, a $1 salary may be appropriate for an agency with no budget, so…)
“You’re an unelected bureaucrat and you do not have the power to force 84 million people to take an experimental vaccine or show their papers. You tried to fire 84 million workers! You’re inept!” — Congresswoman Mary Miller (R-IL)
During a recent hearing (starting at minute 29), Miller attacked Parker for a 2021 COVID Emergency Temporary Standard that required workers in large businesses to be tested for COVID-19 or get vaccinated. She asked Parker whether he thought that “OSHA has the power to force 84 million Americans to take an “experimental vaccine?”
She then answered the question for him, stating that “you’re an unelected bureaucrat and you do not have the power to force 84 million people to take an experimental vaccine or show their papers! You tried to fire 84 million workers!”
She went on to call Parker “inept” and accused him of terrorizing our economy.
And for good measure, Miller added an accusation that OSHA is targeting farmers “in your quest for power,” attempting to shut down the agriculture industry with OSHA’s heat standard “because it’s hot outside.”
“Now you want to tell farmers how to farm and tell Americans which big pharma drugs they have to take.”
She promised to introduce amendments to strip his funding to “reign in” OSHA because “they’ve gone far beyond their minor limited mission. Miller may be an anti-worker nut case, but at least she’s true to her word.
Miller, by the way, is a member of the Insurrection Caucus that voted to overturn the election. She’s a big fan of impeaching Biden, as well as Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Parker isn’t alone in facing a salary cut. An amendment submitted by Louisiana Republican Clay Higgins would reduce MSHA Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson’s salary to $1 and other amendments would reduce to $1 the salaries of HHS Secretary Becerra and Education Secretary Cardona, as well as a number of other Biden administration appointees.
The House Rules Committee is meeting late this afternoon to rule on which amendments will be made “in order” and included in the final bill to be voted on by the entire Congress.
Other OSHA amendments include one from New York Republican Claudia Tenney calling for a study on the effectiveness of OSHA’s spending on technical assistance and compliance assistance in relation to heat-related illness, and one from Texas Democrat Greg Casar that would direct the Inspector General “to publish a report to Congress on the impact to worker safety caused by a reduction in funding to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”
The House Rules Committee is meeting late this afternoon to rule on which amendments will be made “in order” and included in the final bill to be voted on by the entire Congress. Stay tuned.
In addition to the bad OSHA language, numerous anti-abortion amendments have also been proposed. Given those, the OSHA amendments and a number of other “poison pills,” it is highly unlikely that any bill Republicans in the House would pass, would be approved by the Senate or signed by the President.
So buckle up, it’s going to be a rough ride. Especially for OSHA employees, the rest of the federal government, workers working in dangerous workplaces — and the American people.