WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Monday reversed an Obama administration rule designed to ensure government contractors disclose violations of federal labor laws as they seek more work.
Senate approval of the measure sends it to President Donald Trump for his signature and marks another success in the GOP's efforts to quash an array of regulations issued during President Barack Obama's final months in office.
This time, the Senate voted 49-48 to overturn a rule that required contractors to disclose violations of 14 federal labor laws, including those pertaining to workplace safety, wages and discrimination. Contracting officers would then consider the violations when evaluating bids.
The rule addressed government auditors' concerns over the years that contracting officers frequently failed to consider violations when awarding contracts because they lacked adequate information.
But business groups argued that the rule would increase compliance costs for companies and punish all contractors for the actions of a few.
The government estimated the cost of the reporting requirements at about $458 million for contractors in the first year and about $414 million in the second. Business groups also voiced concerns that violations still making their way through a full review could be considered in evaluating a bid.
Supporters of the Obama administration's efforts, including labor unions, said that contractors who cut corners with worker protections are also likely to cut corners in other ways. And that can be a bad deal for taxpayers and employees.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said companies that follow the law would merely have to check a box showing they are in compliance. Meanwhile, the government would work with companies reporting violations to help them comply with the law.
"This rule is not about blackballing or blacklisting companies," Blumenthal said.
Republicans and the Trump administration have made curbing government regulation a top priority this year. Dozens of resolutions disapproving various Obama-era rules have been introduced under an expedited process that allows a simple majority of both chambers to repeal a regulation.
So far, the president has signed into law three such resolutions rolling back Obama-era rules. "We look forward to passing even more this week," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Each year, the federal government spends around $500 billion on contractors. A report released by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said that of the 100 largest penalties imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since Jan. 1, 2015, a dozen applied to companies receiving contracts worth at least $100,000 from the federal government last year.
"Contractors that can't meet basic safety standards shouldn't get a single dollar of taxpayer money," Warren said.
The House has been dedicating more of its floor time to rescinding Obama-era rules, but those efforts have little margin for error in clearing the Senate. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced Monday that he would oppose an effort to overturn a Department of Education rule designed to hold schools accountable for student performance. A couple more defections from Republican senators would place the GOP effort on the education rule in jeopardy.
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