If You Think Washington is Unresponsive Now, Just Wait Until January!
We are witnessing an election year like no other. And if you think this is something, wait until we get closer to November, or January, when a new administration comes to Washington. But until then, we still have some issues to deal with in occupational safety and health.
Most stakeholders are following only three issues at OSHA. The first is the recently finalized silica rule. It looks like there will be several attempts to stop the rule; already, several lawsuits have been filed by both industry and labor. But the real threat to the rule will come from Congress. No, I don’t think Congress has the votes to override the rule through the Congressional Review Act, but I believe there will be an attempt to place a rider on the OSHA budget that would ban OSHA from spending any money to enforce the rule—essentially killing it. The House GOP succeeded in placing a rider on last year’s budget, but the ban was not included in the final appropriations bill. Look for another attempt this year, even though it will be very difficult for the Republicans to put this rider in place.
The second issue is beryllium. While there is considerable talk that OSHA will finalize this rule before the end of the Obama administration, don’t bet on it. Time is running out. Many thought that mid-May was the deadline to finalize any agency rules before the election calendar comes into play. And since the Obama Administration included finalizing the beryllium rule in its FY17 budget proposal, I just don’t see this happening this year.
Now, while there are several other pending issues at OSHA, I don’t believe anything more will come from the agency this year. That means the third and final issue we are concerned with is the FY17 federal budget. So far, we are in the early stages of the budget calendar with the president’s proposal the only one that has been forthcoming. The House and the Senate are both in the process of working on their proposals. The president’s proposed budget for OSHA in FY17 is $595 million, a nice increase over the existing spending of $552.8 million. However, this proposal is essentially “dead on arrival” as there is no way Congress will provide OSHA with that kind of increase. What I see with the OSHA budget is perhaps a very slight increase of perhaps $5 million over existing spending, but don’t the farm on it. As a matter of fact, the OSHA budget of today is $12 million less than the OSHA budget of 2012.
So what about Congress and the presidency? I would be a fool to try to guess what will happen with the presidential election, but I can provide my take on Congress. I believe the House will remain in control of the Republicans as the Democrats would have to pick up some 30 seats to take control. I just don’t see that happening. Had you asked me six months ago I would have said the Senate would remain in control of the Republicans as the Democrats were unlikely to pick up the needed 5 seats to take control. Today, the Senate is in play! Much of what happens in the Senate will depend on the presidential election, so keep your eyes on this.
What does all of this mean? It will be another tough four years to accomplish things at OSHA as I believe we will once again see power split between the two parties. But not to worry: remember that sometimes it makes little difference what OSHA or Congress does or does not do as workers will still be protected because of the thousands of professionals in occupational safety and health. That’s what makes it easier to go to sleep at night.