The Congressional Review Act: Unleashing Big Business to Prey on American Workers, Consumers and Families

Dec. 6, 2016

In the years ahead, President Donald Trump, his cabinet of billionaire robber barons and the corporate-backed Republican Congress will try to plunder our nation’s wealth and resources by dismantling public protections, rigging the rules for their own personal benefit, and preying on American workers, consumers, and families.

Atop their wish list is a rollback of the regulatory protections established during the last administration. These safeguards protect all of us from corporate pickpockets, polluters and predators – the same people running the Trump administration and bankrolling Republicans in Congress. Demolishing public protections is a giveaway to these corporate interests that directly endangers the American people – especially Trump’s own supporters.

Among the powerful tools at their disposal: the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a holdover from Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. The CRA allows Congress by majority vote in both chambers with limited debate and no possibility of a filibuster, to override recently issued rules so long as the president does not veto the congressional actions. The result: Americans could lose dozens of health, safety, pocketbook and environmental protections. Compounding the problem, the CRA would block agencies from issuing “substantially similar” – ever – without express authorization from Congress.

At least 50 major public protections, and hundreds of others, are in immediate danger. The next Congress will have 60 legislative working days to torpedo them. In practical terms, this will enable the Congress taking office in 2017 to undo Obama administration rules finalized after June 13, 2016. Protections at risk of repeal include:

  • Restrictions on predatory payday lenders;
  • Online privacy and personal data protections for consumers;
  • Requirements that prepaid cards clearly disclose all fees and do not rip off cardholders;
  • Limits on the number of robocalls and texts that can be made by debt collectors;
  • Protections for nursing home residents that ban rip-off clauses in their contracts;
  • Debt relief for students defrauded by their schools and a ban on rip-off clauses hidden in contracts with for-profit schools;
  • Updated nutrition labels, which include a new line showing added sugars;
  • Improved energy efficiency standards for refrigerators, furnaces and trucks;
  • Limits on dangerous methane pollution from oil and gas operations;
  • Measures to limit the impacts of oil and gas operations on national wildlife refuges;
  • Non-discrimination rules for federally funded health programs and homeless shelters;
  • Rules requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations and provide employees with paid sick leave; and
  • An anti-corruption rule requiring corporations report payments to foreign governments.

If these protections are eliminated under the CRA, it will be extremely difficult to restore them and it won’t happen anytime soon. In the meantime, the robber barons in the Trump administration, greedy corporations and other bad actors will be free to abuse, exploit and discriminate against regular Americans with impunity, knowing they won’t be held accountable.

This represents a fundamental betrayal of candidate Trump’s promises to drain the swamp, rein in Wall Street and defend the middle class. In many cases, it’s Trump’s rural, white, working class supporters who would be among those who have the most to lose if these public protections are repealed. Payday lenders, debt collectors, and prepaid credit card companies would be able to scam and rip off the same people who put Trump in office. Polluters will be able to dump in their backyards and poison the wells near their homes. Trump’s supporters will pay more out of pocket for their home appliances, trucks and electricity bills. This is what it means to roll back public protections.

Republicans don’t have forever to use the CRA. The new Congress starts on Jan. 3 and has only 60 legislative working days to use it. In other words, Republicans only have through May or June to pass CRA resolutions of disapproval, which means they’re going to come at us fast and furious. It’s important to remember that CRA resolutions are just the opening salvo in the GOP’s war on public protections. They will be followed by, or perhaps even accompanied by, a wave of legislative repeal packages and deregulatory measures that unleash big corporations to prey on ordinary Americans.

Until the CRA threat passes, we need to make as much noise as possible. We may not be able to stop most CRA resolutions, but they represent an early opportunity to define the Trump administration and the Republican Congress as fundamentally predatory and corrupted by big business. Just as important, CRA fights are a chance to show that we’re on the side of the American people. So let’s sound the alarm and fight back.

 

Contact: Lisa Gilbert, lgilbert@citizen.org, (551) 404-5200
Michell McIntyre, mmcintyre@citizen.org, (202) 454-5156
David Rosen, drosen@citizen.org, (202) 588-7742