Republicans lost a rare floor battle Thursday, as the House voted 221-203 on a Democratic motion to instruct conferees working on the FY04 Labor-HHS spending bill to adopt Senate language that effectively would block a controversial administration proposal that critics say would cost millions of workers the right to overtime pay.
The instruction tells conferees to back a Senate-passed provision in the spending bill withholding funding to the Department of Labor for rules that would eliminate workers'
overtime pay. It effectively blocks a proposal to reclassify workers in a way that would cause some workers to lose overtime eligibility.
Conferees are not obligated to follow the House-passed instructions, and Republicans ultimately may ignore it and eliminate the Senate language in the final bill.
"Remember, this is nonbinding,"Majority Leader DeLay said, as he entered the chamber to vote.
But House Education and the Workforce ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., said he doubted President Bush would make good on a threat to veto the Labor-HHS bill if it includes language blocking the overtime rules.
"This issue is such a loser for him -- he would have to say 'I'm vetoing this so that I can take away your overtime,'" Miller said. "That'd be one he'd have to do at midnight on a Friday."
Minority Whip Hoyer basked in the glow of the rare victory.
"It's the first time since Republicans took the House that the two whip operations have gone head-to-head on an issue and Republicans have lost," a Hoyer spokeswoman said. "So this was a victory on a substantive issue and also on political grounds."
Democrats lost the first vote on the issue back in July, when an amendment to the spending bill blocking the proposed Labor Department rules died in a 213-210 vote.
"It would have been hard to pass this two weeks ago," said House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis.
Obey noted recent developments that have undermined Republicans' trust in the administration, pointing to job losses and the $87 billion FY04 supplemental Iraq request.
House Minority Leader Pelosi said the vote demonstrated Republicans could no longer take for granted the votes of 20-30 GOP moderates.
"If you think they're going to let their own people off the hook, that day is over," she said.
Critics say the proposed rules would eliminate overtime protections for 8 million people, by relaxing standards for determining those ineligible for overtime pay. The Labor Department said it proposed the reclassification as part of an effort to modernize the overtime regime established in the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the proposed rule change would affect only 633,000 workers.
It also has suggested raising the salary requirements for overtime pay so as to guarantee time-and-a-half pay for 1.3 million more employees. The Senate provision would allow the Labor Department to adopt the rule raising salary thresholds, but would block the reclassification rule.