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Gephardt declares 'end' of bipartisanship

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House discussion on workplace safety standards is "the biggest heist of a special interest in the history of Congress," Gephardt said  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said Wednesday that debate on ergonomics regulations signaled the end of congressional bipartisanship.

Gephardt said the passage of a bankruptcy bill, an expected House vote on Thursday on the first component of President Bush's tax cut, and what Democrats see as a hastily scheduled vote on the ergonomics rule indicated the White House was no longer demonstrating a desire to work together with Democrats.

Gephardt spoke at an event arranged to lobby against the removal of safety standards that are aimed at preventing workplace injuries.

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The Senate repealed the Clinton administration rule late Tuesday. The House was set to vote on the issue later Wednesday.

"This is a hurry-up deal," Gephardt said. "It was done yesterday in the Senate. Now they're rushing it through here with, again, one hour of debate.

"This is the biggest heist of a special interest in the history of the Congress," he continued. "This is breathtaking. This takes your breath away -- that they would come in here in one week, in two days, and rip this thing out that took 10 years to do the scientific work to find out what ought to be done."

Republicans defended the need to move quickly on the issue of workplace safety.

"There is a need to expedite this so the Department of Labor can get to fixing the ergonomics regulations," said Terry Holt, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, pointing out that Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has sent a letter indicating she intends to pursue "a comprehensive approach to ergonomics, which may include new rule-making, that addresses the concerns levied against the current standard."

But Gephardt was unrelenting in his criticism, calling a potential repeal of the standards now on the books an example of the "consequences" of the 2000 election.

"Elections have consequences," the Missouri Democrat said, "This election had a lot of consequences for ... millions of Americans around the country who had no idea when they went to vote that this could happen in such short order."

Aides on both sides said they expect a very close vote on the ergonomics rule. But Republican aides said the Republican leadership would not have scheduled the measure for a vote if they were not confident they could pass the repeal.



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