Republican: OSHA skirting Congress on family farms

A House Republican on Tuesday accused the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of skirting Congress to regulate family farms.

"Time and again, the administration has made end-runs around Congress and the American people to serve its own political interests," Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said during a workforce protections subcommittee hearing that he led as chairman.

Since the 1970s, Congress has prohibited OSHA from enforcement actions at farms with 10 or fewer employees.

But in recent months Republicans said OSHA has maneuvered around these rules by claiming jurisdiction over the non-farming operations of farms, such as grain storage.

OSHA has also been issuing "guidance" measures, which are a step down from regulations but have not been vetted by the public in the same way.

When OSHA issues guidance, it is not a hard-and-fast rule in the same way that regulations are, but Republicans say OSHA is using these suggestions to scare small farmers and get its point across.

"It's very troubling to see the administration circumvent the public rulemaking process in order to significantly alter health and safety standards," Walberg said.

Democrats on the subcommittee accused Republicans of trying to "undermine" OSHA.

Ranking member Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) pointed to what he said was OSHA's "lack of capacity" to address workplace safety concerns and called on Congress to give OSHA more oversight powers.

"Our committee needs to focus on helping OSHA address the challenges of updating outmoded health standards, but instead, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are trying to use this hearing and other actions to further undermine OSHA at the expense of workers across the country," Courtney said.

OSHA's powers extended beyond the agricultural community to workplaces across all industries.

Republicans say OSHA's recent moves are just the latest example of "executive overreach" by the Obama administration. Walberg pointed to the president's NLRB recess appointments that were struck down by the courts, his push to waive the work requirements in welfare reform, and his decision to delay parts of ObamaCare as other examples.

"In recent weeks there has been a great deal of discussion about the use of executive power," Walberg said. "President Obama promised in his State of the Union address to go around Congress when necessary to advance his own agenda. The president’s remarks fit a pattern we're all too familiar with under this administration, and goes well beyond the attitudes and actions of past administrations of both parties."

More in House

Indiana Republican: Leaders duped me

Read more »