By Celine McNicholas, Economic Policy Institute
This week, the House of Representatives will consider three bills that further advance a deregulatory agenda that jeopardizes worker safety, consumer protections, and our environment. The House has already passed several bills this session that limit agencies’ ability to regulate. The trio of bills on the House floor this week includes the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017, the OIRA Insight, Reform, and Accountability Act, and the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act. The House will also vote on additional Congressional Review Act resolutions to block existing rules, including an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation that enables OSHA to hold employers accountable for failing to keep accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses. It is clear that Congress is laser-focused on rolling back regulatory protections and making it as hard as possible for agencies tasked with safeguarding our nation’s workers to do their job.
Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act
The SCRUB Act would establish a “Retrospective Regulatory Review Commission,” consisting of political appointees, to identify regulations to eliminate or modify to “lower the cost to the economy.” When targeting regulations for elimination, the commission would consider only the costs associated with the rule, as opposed to a true cost-benefit analysis. For example, the bill directs the commission to consider if there is a less costly alternative to the rule—without requiring that they also consider the benefits of potential alternatives. This makes little sense. Whether a regulation is good for the country and the economy depends not just on the costs of the rule, but also the benefits to workers, safety, health, the environment, etc. Focusing only on lowering the costs, rather than the “net benefits,” (benefits minus costs) really means focusing on lowering the costs for business. Once again, Congress is showing that they care far more about big business and their CEOs and shareholders than the rest of their constituents.
OIRA Insight, Reform, and Accountability Act
The OIRA Insight, Reform, and Accountability Act would create a new group, led by an administrator appointed by the president, to monitor and evaluate the agency rulemaking process. The bill imposes additional burdensome reporting requirements on agencies engaged in rulemaking, making it difficult for agencies to efficiently promulgate new regulations. It would also undermine the role of independent agencies, which were created to operate free from political interference. These agencies—including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Reserve, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are currently not required to submit significant regulatory proposals to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)—an agency within the White House Office of Management and Budget which reviews regulations to, in part, ensure that they reflect the president’s priorities. The bill would require them to submit their rules to OIRA for review, opening them to further control by the president.
Regulatory Integrity Act
The Regulatory Integrity Act undermines agencies’ ability to engage with the public during the rulemaking process. The bill prohibits agencies from issuing “public communications” about “pending regulatory action” that could be viewed as direct advocacy or propaganda, and requires agencies to report on these communications. The legislation fails to clearly define what constitutes advocacy, and would likely lead agencies to avoid public communications. As a result, the public will receive less information on regulations, agency guidance, and policy statements. Overall, the legislation will lead to decreased transparency and public participation in the rulemaking process.
Each of these bills would make it more difficult for agencies to protect workers and the public through regulation. While it is unlikely that any of the bills will be able to get the 60 votes required for cloture in the Senate, it is telling that congressional Republicans continue to advance anti-regulatory legislation. The House has already passed legislation that would provide regulated entities and their lobbyists with the tools to interfere with regulatory protections they oppose. The legislation considered this week shows corporations and their lobbyists that House Republicans hear them and will continue to move legislation that puts corporate concerns ahead of the American people.
The CRA resolutions, like the resolution blocking the OSHA rule that will be voted on this week, require only a simple majority in the Senate, so those will likely be signed into law. All of this leaves workers and consumers with fewer protections while corporations can rest assured that congressional Republicans are working to prevent agencies tasked with safeguarding workers, consumers, and the environment from issuing regulatory protections.