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House blocks overtime rules

Balloting deals Bush policy a sharp blow

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Associated Press / September 10, 2004

WASHINGTON -- In a sharp rebuke of a new administration policy, the House moved yesterday to block the Labor Department from carrying out overtime rules critics argued could deprive millions of workers of overtime pay.

The 223-193 vote in favor of blocking the new overtime rules defied the White House, which has threatened to veto a massive spending bill now on the House floor if it contains any language tampering with the rules that took effect Aug. 23.

Democrats, united against the rules, were joined by some 20 Republicans in voting for the amendment to a $142.5 billion health and education spending bill.

The vote was President Bush's second election-season defeat in Congress in two days.

On Wednesday the Senate disregarded a White House veto threat and voted to prohibit Bush from giving federal immigration jobs to private workers.

"The administration has chosen this time to institute new regulations, which for the first time in 80 years scale back workers' entitlement to overtime pay," said Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat and a sponsor of the overtime proposal.

Democrats sought to depict the issue as an election-season example of the Bush administration's insensitivity to worker rights, saying the overtime privileges of up to 6 million workers were at risk.

The White House and most Republicans insisted the new rules would update an antiquated overtime pay system and would add more than 1 million lower-paid workers to the ranks of those who are eligible for overtime.

"I do think that the clarity that comes with these new rules will help better protect American workers," said Representative John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

It was unclear how much impact the House vote would have on the Labor Department rules, the biggest overhaul of overtime regulations in more than half a century.

The Senate has yet to take up the health and education bill and the provision could still be stripped out of the final bill when the two chambers, both controlled by Republicans, meet to settle on a final version.

The bill may not reach the president's desk for a possible veto before the election.

The Obey-Miller language blocks all aspects of the rules except those that extend overtime to lower-paid workers.

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