Meet the New Boss(es)
U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., has already changed the House Education and Labor Committee's name and its website. He brings a much different agenda than during the 111th Congress.
- By Jerry Laws
- Jan 05, 2011
The 112th Congress went to work Jan. 5, beginning two years of the divided federal government that American voters established with their votes in the midterm 2010 elections. How this changes the funding and activities of agencies important to safety, health, and environmental professionals won't be known for some time. However, we do know the legislation introduced by the new leaders of U.S. House of Representatives committees and their priorities will differ from those pushed by the Democrats who headed the panels for the past two years.
Changed on day one was the name of the House Education and Labor Committee -- it is now the Education & the Workforce Committee. Its new chairman is U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., a Texas native and 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps who retired as a colonel after an illustrious career before being elected to Congress in 2002 in his third attempt to unseat DFL incumbent Bill Luther. Kline lives in Lakeville, Minn., and represents Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, which reaches from the suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul to rural farmland in the southern part of the state. Burnsville and Eagan are the district's largest cities, and the Mississippi River and Interstate 35 cross it. 3M and Red Wing Shoes are among the large employers there. Kline, a conservative, was endorsed for re-election in 2010 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association, National Federation of Independent Business, and American Conservative Union, among others.
The committee's site on Jan. 5 displayed a Kline statement saying his committee's majority are firmly in support of Republican House efforts to repeal the health care reform law enacted in 2010. He has promised to focus on education, particularly revision of No Child Left Behind. Education and Labor also is the committee with oversight over OSHA, MSHA, and the rest of the U.S. Department of Labor. Kline, 63, has served on this committee since coming to Congress in 2003; he also serves on the Committee on Armed Services and has successfully worked to secure higher pensions for wounded veterans and overdue bonus pay for Minnesota National Guard service members whose service was involuntarily extended. He has taken several congressional trips to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kline says his assumption this month of the chairman's seat brings a much different agenda than that of Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chaired the committee during the 111th Congress. A press officer for the committee's Republican members on Dec. 23 e-mailed the following answers by Kline to questions submitted by OH&S Editor Jerry Laws:
1. Was the Education and Labor Committee productive and focused on the right issues during the 111th Congress, in your opinion?
Rep. Kline: The committee was productive but unfortunately focused on the wrong priorities. For more than two years the nation's top concern has been jobs, yet that concern was largely ignored by the Democratic-led Congress. Job creation and American competitiveness are vital national priorities and I intend to put them at the forefront of the committee's agenda starting next year.
2. What are the changes -- in the committee's structure, areas of focus, number of hearings, etc. -– that you intend to make for the 112th Congress?
Rep. Kline: First and foremost will be a change in the committee's focus. Policies developed in Washington -– whether by Congress or the administration –- should not undermine efforts by small businesses and entrepreneurs to create jobs and opportunities. Congress needs to evaluate every rule, regulation, and program that has the potential to destroy jobs, as well as pursue positive solutions to help end the economic uncertainty and get the country back on track.
3. What was your and the minority members' relationship with Chairman Miller and the subcommittee chairs during the 111th Congress?
Rep. Kline: George Miller has spent a lifetime in public service, and no one can doubt his commitment to the nation's schools and workplaces. We both agree our classrooms and job sites face significant challenges and unique opportunities, and this committee in particular has a history of abiding by the old axiom that says you can disagree without being disagreeable. I believe voters elected a Republican Congress to confront these challenges in a way that is fiscally responsible and doesn't assume Washington has all the answers. I hope every member of Congress joins that effort.
4. Congressman Miller was very interested in raising penalties for significant violations of mine safety regulations and in making it possible for mine operators to be criminally prosecuted for knowingly willful violations that caused a miner's death. He also argued the large backlog of appealed mining enforcement cases were delay and obstruction tactics by mine operators. Do you agree? What's your opinion about MSHA's current enforcement posture and its ongoing fight with Massey Energy over the Upper Big Branch investigation?
Rep. Kline: Everyone agrees bad actors must be held accountable for violating the law and putting the safety of miners at risk. As Republicans have said for months, part of the challenge has been a broken appeals process and a failure of MSHA to use every tool at its disposal to enforce the law. I am encouraged by the steps MSHA has recently taken to strengthen safety through existing law, and it's worth noting that one of those steps is similar to part of our preliminary proposal for mine safety reform, which was to reinstate the conference process to help clear the backlog. We will keep a close eye on MSHA's progress and ensure it does its part to keep miners safe.
5. OSHA under the leadership of Dr. David Michaels has been quite aggressive in its penalties, its enforcement, and in proposing regulatory changes, such as adding a column for recording musculoskeletal injuries on the mandatory OSHA log, requiring employers to adopt an injury and illness prevention plan, and proposing to change how it interprets "feasible" engineering controls in its noise exposure standards. Are you in favor of these?
Rep. Kline: There are serious questions about whether the administration's punishment before prevention approach to workplace safety is really in the best interest of workers. 'Shaming' an employer, as the administrator has said, may play well in the press, but it is not the best approach to prevent accidents before they occur. The committee will look at any proposal by the administration that may lead to fewer jobs and opportunities for the American workforce.
6. What grades would you give Dr. Michaels, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and MSHA Administrator Joe Main for their performance as leaders of their agencies?
Rep. Kline: Unless Washington puts fiscal responsibility and job creation at the top of its agenda, we all will earn failing grades. Working to create an environment that will help get the economy back on its feet and people back to work is the measure of success we all should be judged by in the weeks and months ahead.
7. OSHA's budget and MSHA's budget are fairly small, but they have steadily increased in recent years. Would you like to see this changed? What influence if any on funding of these agencies will you have in the 112th Congress? Have you discussed their performance and funding with the House Appropriations ranking member and the Labor, HHS, Education subcommittee's ranking member to see what they have in mind?
Rep. Kline: An agency's importance and effectiveness cannot be judged solely on the amount of dollars and cents it has been allocated. With the national debt approaching $14 trillion, every dime of taxpayer money must be counted and justified before it is spent. Republicans have pledged to make the tough choices that are necessary to bring balance back to the budget and to rein in the size and cost of the federal government while setting priorities and providing the necessary funding for effective enforcement of our laws. I will work hard from day one to ensure the agencies and programs that fall within the committee's jurisdiction are serving the best interest of taxpayers and the individuals those programs are designed to serve.
8. When the 112th Congress concludes two years from now, what do you hope your committee will have accomplished?
Rep. Kline: I hope the committee will have done its part to end economic uncertainty, check the expansive powers of the federal bureaucracy, and put the government's budget back on track and the nation back to work. It is a tall order but I am eager to get started on the work the American people sent us here to do.