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Spending Bill to Include Overtime Change

November 22, 2003|From Wire Service Reports

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration won a Capitol Hill battle Friday over proposed changes to U.S. overtime work rules that are supported by business and opposed by labor organizations, congressional aides said.

Aides said Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, had lifted his objections to the proposal, clearing the way for passage of a huge year-end spending bill without a provision that would have blocked the new regulations.

Specter made the about-face a day after he floated a possible compromise that was shot down, and just hours after he told a news conference he was still seeking a deal. He conceded he had been "boxed in" with no certain way to prevail.

The administration, which had refused to back down from its proposal despite majority votes against it in the House and the Senate, contends the regulations would clarify and update often confusing and antiquated work rules. It also says the changes in the rules would guarantee overtime protection for an estimated 1.3 million more low-income, white-collar workers.

Critics of the new rules said they could lead to 8 million Americans losing eligibility for overtime pay, largely white-collar workers earning more than $65,000 a year. Administration officials say more than 644,000 such employees would lose the time-and-a-half pay now required when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

The dispute was the biggest hurdle to a bill financing dozens of federal agencies. With the overtime fight resolved, the bill, which exceeds $280 billion, one-eighth of the entire federal budget, could be approved by the House this weekend and by the Senate next week.

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who had teamed up with Specter to try to block the regulations, issued a statement expressing his regrets.

"This is hugely disappointing to me and a real blow to the working men and women of this country who depend on overtime pay," Harkin said.

The Labor Department proposed the rules in March and is expected to issue a final version as early as next month.

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