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Demos renew overtime fight

WASHINGTON — Democrats and their labor allies renewed their drive Tuesday to block proposed Bush administration rules that opponents say would cost 8 million workers their overtime pay.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he would propose an amendment to a spending bill to derail the proposed regulations and predicted he would prevail. A similar bid by House Democrats lost in July by a 213-210 vote after the White House threatened a veto.

In addition, the AFL-CIO said it was beginning to run television ads nationally and in pivotal states aimed at pressuring senators to support Harkin's provision. Labor has opposed the administration proposal, while numerous business groups have lobbied for it.

Harkin said he believed he had three to six Republican votes, which could be decisive in the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a narrow margin. He told reporters that President Bush and his supporters would suffer political consequences should they persist in trying to redefine which workers would qualify for time-and-a-half pay after a work week has exceeded 40 hours.

"He may satisfy some of his business friends, but he's going to lose middle America," Harkin said.

Republican aides said the vote seemed likely to be close, and they expected a clearer picture to emerge this week. The Senate reconvened Tuesday after its four-week summer recess, but few lawmakers were around.

Harkin conceded that one difficulty he faced was making sure enough Democratic senators are in town for the vote, which may not come until next week. Four of them are running for president and often are on the road campaigning.

The rules could take effect by early next year, unless a law is enacted to kill them. The proposal changes definitions of who qualifies for overtime, with the Labor Department estimating the extra pay would be eliminated for at least 644,000 white-collar workers who now receive it.

The administration, which proposed the regulations in March, says they represent a needed update to rules first laid out in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Republicans say the proposal would clarify confusing regulations and reduce an increasing number of lawsuits by workers seeking overtime pay.

The administration rules also would raise — from the current $8,060 to $22,100 — the annual pay below which workers must be paid overtime. The Labor Department says up to 1.3 million additional low-income employees would gain overtime under that proposal, and Harkin's amendment would let that change take place.

The AFL-CIO said its ad would run this week nationally on CNN and in Maine, Ohio and Missouri.

Maine is home to moderate GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Christopher Bond, R-Mo., are up for re-election next year.

The 30-second spot depicts an aerospace worker who complains that loss of overtime would hurt his retirement plans while helping big businesses.

Harkin planned to offer the amendment to a bill providing $137.6 billion for next year's labor, education and health programs. That bill also is a battleground for Democratic attempts to spend more for schools than Bush and the GOP have proposed.