President Bush signed his first bill carrying national impact yesterday, repealing workplace safety regulations that he called "unduly burdensome and overly broad," and sending his administration to work on a business-friendlier substitute that is months or years away.
Republicans see the repeal, which was whisked through Congress, as a major step in diminishing the regulatory legacy of former president Bill Clinton. Speaking to female business leaders in the East Room, Bush praised Congress for beginning "a culture of accomplishment in Washington."
"There's a bankruptcy bill that's working its way through the House and the Senate," Bush said. "There's an ergonomics, change in ergonomics regulations that I believe is positive . . . Things are getting done."
Both measures were top priorities of business groups. After signing the ergonomics bill in private, Bush issued a statement. "The safety and health of our nation's workforce is a priority for my administration," he wrote. "Together, we will pursue a comprehensive approach to ergonomics that addresses the concerns surrounding the ergonomics rule repealed today."
The bill was the fifth that Bush has signed. The others were less far-reaching: naming a courthouse in Boston for Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.); naming an aircraft carrier for former president Ronald Reagan; and making designations for the Smithsonian Institution board of regents and the Joint Economic Committee, which consists of House and Senate members.
The ergonomics regulations, which were 10 years in the making, would have taken effect in October. Labor Department officials said they have begun working on an alternative, which could include replacement regulations or voluntary guidelines. A third possibility is a new regulation written at the direction of Congress.
In the meantime, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will continue to investigate complaints. "OSHA is still charged with ensuring a safe workplace," labor spokesman Stuart D. Roy said.
Gregory A. Denier, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said the regulation would have prevented 600,000 injuries a year through such changes as better workstation design for chicken de-boners and meat packers. Martha G. Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, an umbrella for 120 groups representing 6 million people, said women suffer many ergonomic injuries from keyboard work and machine cleaning, and called the repeal "a slap in the face of women."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush "believes that we can protect the health and safety of workers without passing a regulation that is terribly burdensome to the economy and to the small businesses on which their growth depends."
On another issue, with Democrats focused on cutting the lowest tax rate first, Bush used the East Room speech to promote the upper end of his tax-cut proposal. "Reducing the top rate will help with job creation and capital formation and -- as importantly -- will help highlight the American dream," he said.
In the afternoon, Bush traveled to Langley to the Central Intelligence Agency, where the headquarters is named for his father, former president and CIA director George Bush, to give a pep talk. "You might be the only federal agency where not making the newspapers or network news qualifies as good news," Bush joked.
Bush, accompanied by CIA Director George J. Tenet, a Clinton administration holdover, told employees he was "struck by the contrast between today's world . . . and when my dad was the DCI."
"In retrospect, the world of 1976 looks staid and static," Bush said.