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Politics Sidetracks Vote on Overtime Pay

All four Democratic senators running for president are present to decide the key labor issue. But the GOP majority forces a delay.

September 10, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — It's unusual nowadays to find all four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates at the Capitol at the same time. More often, they are in New Hampshire, Iowa or elsewhere on the 2004 campaign trail.

On Tuesday, though, the quartet was on hand and eager to vote on a key priority for labor leaders -- a measure to block Bush administration proposals that would eliminate overtime pay for some workers.

There was just one hitch: The Republicans who control the Senate told the Democrats to come back another day.

Democratic Senate leaders pushed for an afternoon vote to allow Sens. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, John Edwards of North Carolina and Bob Graham of Florida to record their opposition to the administration and then dash to Baltimore for an evening debate. They said GOP agreement to the vote would pave the way for passage of a $138-billion bill funding labor, health and education programs. The overtime provision is being offered as an amendment to that bill.

"They want our cooperation to finish the bill; we'd like to provide it," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said. "But we need their cooperation to allow us an opportunity to vote when our presidential candidates are here. I don't think that's too much to ask."

GOP leaders, professing shock that politics would intrude on Senate business, rejected the request.

"People are frustrated that because of presidential politics the Senate comes to a halt," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). "We can't run the United States Senate that way."

Frist and Daschle eventually arranged for a vote on the overtime issue today.

Frist himself has a problem: Some Republicans are expected to join the Democrats in opposing the proposed overtime rules, which would hand the administration a defeat. But the GOP-led House upheld the regulations in July, meaning the push to stop them from taking effect may remain bottled up in Congress.

The Labor Department has estimated that under the proposed rules, 640,000 white-collar workers -- none of them unionized -- could lose time-and-a-half overtime pay. But a study backed by labor unions and Democrats found that 8 million workers could be affected.

Administration officials have defended the rules as a needed rewrite of antiquated regulations.

And one change enjoys bipartisan support -- adding 1.3 million currently ineligible lower-income workers to the ranks of those who can receive overtime pay.

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