GOPers Now Slam Mine Safety Agency — But Skipped Recent Mine Safety Hearing

In case you needed a reminder of just how shameless congressional Republicans can be…

The GOP members of the House Education and Labor committee, led by Rep. John Kline, last week put out a press release that slammed the “enforcement failures” of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, suggesting that the agency’s failure to increase oversight of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia had helped lead to the deadly explosion that killed 29 miners earlier this month. The release, which did not mention the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, asked: “Why didn’t federal officials enforce the law to the fullest extent?”Now, let’s set aside the basic reality that it was the Bush administration that neutered MSHA — as it did to so many other regulatory agencies — and “reversed decades of progress on mine safety,” as the Washington Monthly put it in 2007.

Because it happens that in February, the Education and Labor committee held a hearing “to assess whether a backlog of mine safety enforcement actions are adversely impacting [MSHA’s] ability to protect miners’ safety and prevent future tragedies.” And of the committee’s 19 Republicans, just one bothered to show up, according to a transcript of the proceedings. That was the most junior GOP member, Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, who took office in January 2009.

The paltry Republican showing was even noted at the time by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the committee chair. “I’d like to recognize the senior Republican on the committee this morning,” said Miller when it was Thompson’s turn to question the witnesses.

Of course, the notion that MSHA needs to become a more aggressive enforcer is hardly far-fetched. But given the level of interest that the committee’s Republicans demonstrated on the issue before it hit the headlines, it’s a little hard to take their criticisms too seriously.

A spokeswoman for the committee’s Republicans did not immediately respond to a request for comment.