WASHINGTON – House Republicans rebuffed a Democratic attempt Wednesday to force an election-year vote on the Bush administration's new overtime pay rules.
The vote, 222-205, blocked a move by Democratic Rep. George Miller (search) of California to force the House to take sides on the controversial issue. Miller sought a vote on a provision to require the new regulations to retain eligibility for all workers who currently qualify for overtime pay.
"They have shut down debate and denied a vote in Congress so that the Bush administration can take away workers' overtime pay," Miller said. "It is obvious that the House Republican majority is simply rubber-stamping the orders of the Bush administration."
The GOP-controlled Senate approved a similar measure last week. The Labor Department (search) rules were issued last month and take effect in August.
Miller's procedural move to force a vote surprised Republican House leaders, who quickly scrambled for the votes to block the effort.
Had Miller succeeded, the overtime vote would have been largely symbolic, and would not have changed the new regulations. But it would have forced members of Congress to take a stand in an election year on a pocketbook issue important to many voters.
"It's clear that Democratic Party leaders are only interested in a partisan attack at the expense of lower-income workers who deserve new overtime protections," said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
The new regulations mark the first thorough overhaul of government overtime rules in more than 50 years. Administration officials say the rules will guarantee overtime rights for white-collar workers earning up to $23,660 a year, and protect or expand current eligibility for those earning up to $100,000.
Department officials say the changes will clarify the complex rules and reduce the increasing number of lawsuits against employers by workers challenging their status.
The new rule will exempt about 100,000 workers now eligible for overtime pay (search), officials said. But Democrats and labor unions say the number will be much higher.
Organized labor has lobbied furiously to kill the rules.
"We've been meeting with Republicans, and there continues to be a lot of skepticism on their part about the Labor Department plan," said Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO (search).