When the Administration withdrew a rule last month prohibiting young agricultural workers from performing some particularly dangerous tasks, the Department of Labor’s statement didnt't just say it was tabling the proposal, or reconsidering it, or even starting over from scratch. It went an extra step, adding: “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”
Given that farm accidents are a very real concern, it's hard to read such an unusually vocal commitment to inaction as anything other than a political gesture. Indeed, the Administration won plaudits from big ag and its supporters. But if the White House actually thought that throwing young agricultural workers under the bus would truly satisfy the appetite of the opposition – and change the politics of the issue – it was wrong.
Here was Janet Fisher, West Virginia’s Deputy Agriculture Commissioner, speaking to the Register-Herald of Beckley: “They had so much of an outcry from farming communities around the country they decided to back off, for now.” The Texas Farm Bureau said that “cooler heads have prevailed–for now.” And here was the editorial page of the Boston Herald: “Take the proposed nanny-state farm-worker regulation withdrawn (but not killed) by the Labor Department last month.”
If you're thinking the Herald might suffer consequences for just making stuff up, don’t hold your breath.
The decision to back off this regulation is a true profile in cowardice. The White House could and should have stood up to the dishonest assertion by industry that the reg would stop family farmers from putting their children to work in the family business. For better or worse, they were exempted from the proposed rule. That notwithstanding, the Administration surrendered, quashing the proposal in an attempt to appease the opposition. In post-truth politics, giving the other side what they want doesn’t necessarily yield much, if anything, in the public debate. The Boston Herald editorial page just doesn’t care. Condemning young agricultural workers to more severe injuries, in other words, is not just bad policy, but is unlikely to win over many of the voters it was targeting.