Corporate Congress Trying to Kill Public Safeguards

Editorial Board Update

March 4, 2015

Contact: David Rosen, (202) 588-7742, drosen@citizen.org
Angela Bradbery, (202) 588-7741, abradbery@citizen.org
Brian Gumm, (202) 683-4812, bgumm@foreffectivegov.org

The 114th Congress has been in session for just two months, yet it is already working hard to undermine the standards and safeguards that protect American workers and families from harm. Lawmakers have put forth a series of major bills that would bury federal agencies under a host of new procedural and analytical requirements and paralyze their work. If even one of these bills were to become law, our food, air, water, homes, workplaces and pocketbooks – not to mention our economy – would be in serious jeopardy.

These bills represent an extreme and urgent threat to our system of public safeguards. Three of them – the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (UMITA) and the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRIFA) – have been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and will soon be taken up by the U.S. Senate. Even more anti-regulatory bills are sure to follow.

 

Please call on Congress to do what’s in the public interest – rather than the corporate interest – and stop these anti-regulatory bills.

American voters didn’t ask for this. Polling shows nearly nine in 10 voters across party lines support strong rules and tougher enforcement. In fact, many of our nation’s regulatory agencies – including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – are more popular than Congress. Whether it’s by holding Wall Street accountable or keeping toxic chemicals out of our kids’ toys, Americans understand that regulations benefit us all.

Indeed, a June 2014 report from the Office of Management and Budget shows that regulations over the past decade produced as much as $863 billion in benefits to the public – up to 15 times the costs to the regulated industries. Rules and standards that keep our economy safe, fair and prosperous are an extremely good return on investment.

The bills working their way through Congress represent a radical threat to our government’s ability to protect the public from disasters caused by corporate wrongdoing. They would delay or shut down the development and implementation of crucial public health, workplace safety, consumer, financial and environmental protections.

The costs of blocking crucial standards and safeguards are clear: The Wall Street economic collapse, the oil train explosion in West Virginia, countless food and product safety recalls, and environmental catastrophes – such as the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina – are just some of the most recent examples. Far too often, big banks, big oil companies and their CEOs prioritize their bottom lines over public safety and financial stability. Federal agencies are there to look out for us. When our watchdogs can’t do their jobs, it only spells disaster.

 

Money talks and is asking for deregulation, no matter the consequences

So why is Congress attacking public safeguards? Follow the money. From big oil and gas companies to big banks on Wall Street to big insurers, giant corporations and business groups are spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to lobby lawmakers, rig the rules in their favor, and block or roll back safeguards that prevent them from engaging in reckless and illegal behavior.

The biggest lobbyist for this anti-regulatory agenda is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The largest dark money group in the 2014 cycle and by far the largest lobbying organization in Washington, the Chamber recently pledged to renew its assault on the federal agencies and the rulemaking process. The Chamber purports to represent all American businesses, but it is primarily financed by giant corporations. In fact, more than half of its funding comes from just 64 donors like Dow Chemical Co., Chevron Corp. and Merck & Co. Inc. The Chamber spent heavily in the 2014 primaries to defeat candidates who might have balked at its demands, and again in the general election to put sympathetic members in Congress.

 

Without the Senate as a backstop, the harmful bills described below could become law.

Expect Senate lawmakers to follow the lead of their House counterparts and vote for these measures, and work to peel off just enough Democrats to create the illusion of bipartisan support.

 

Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS), H.R. 427 / S. 226

Status: Introduced in both chambers on Jan. 21 and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as well as the House Committees on the Judiciary, Rules and Budget.

This legislation would require all new economically significant regulations – in other words, the big-ticket public protections that provide the most health, safety, environmental and economic benefits – to be approved by Congress before they can take effect. The REINS Act would require both houses of Congress to approve a major rule, with no alterations, within a 70-day window. If both chambers were unable to approve a major rule, it would not take effect and would be tabled until the next congressional session.

In other words, the reigning dysfunction in Congress would endanger any important new regulation, no matter how uncontroversial it might be. A handful of members of Congress – even a lone senator – could kill any significant new rule simply by doing nothing. The REINS Act is nothing more than a back-door way to gut enforcement of existing legislation and future safeguards that big-money interests do not want. It puts crucial environmental, safety and financial standards in serious jeopardy.

Congress already has the first and last word when it comes to agency rulemaking, making the REINS Act needless and redundant. Agencies can exercise only the authority that has been delegated to them by Congress in authorizing legislation. Any agency attempt to overstep these bounds is likely to result in judicial scrutiny and reversal of the agency action. And under the Congressional Review Act, Congress already has the authority to review and nullify a rule by passing a resolution of disapproval. The REINS Act would force Congress to refight its previous debates, wasting time and money, and paralyzing vital agency work.

 

Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), H.R. 185

Status: Passed by the House on Jan. 13. Introduced in the Senate on Jan. 16 and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

This innocuous-sounding bill would undermine our nation’s environmental, health, safety and consumer protections – not improve them. It would sabotage dozens of laws – including the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act – by requiring federal agencies to produce highly speculative estimates of all the indirect costs and benefits of proposed rules and do the same for any potential alternatives.

This would hamstring the work of agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Federal agencies already take years to issue health, safety and financial protection standards. The dozens of cumbersome requirements added by this bill would make that process even longer.

Any high-stakes rule that miraculously made it through these roadblocks would face unprecedented challenges. Currently, courts defer to federal agencies because judges lack the knowledge and expertise to evaluate highly technical cost-benefit analyses. But the RAA would allow industry lobbyists to second-guess the work of respected scientists through legal challenges, sparking a wave of litigation that would add even more costs and delays to the rulemaking process. This is a recipe for endless lawsuits that would put the lives, health and safety of millions of Americans at risk.

 

Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (UMITA), H.R. 50 / S. 189

Status: Passed by the House on Feb. 4. Introduced in the Senate on Jan. 20 and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

This legislation would give big corporations even more influence over the rulemaking process than they already have. Agencies would have to alert businesses when they are considering drafting a rule and solicit their feedback – before the public even learns there may be a rule under consideration. Businesses could block even a hypothetical future rule, and the American people would not be able to weigh in. Industry interests don’t need special access to government regulators, yet this bill would codify that access into law.

The bill also would require agencies to perform retrospective analyses at the request of any chairman or ranking member of any House or Senate committee. Agencies could be forced to perform dozens, if not hundreds, of unnecessary retrospective reviews for rules that have been on the books for decades – diverting staff and resources from developing critical new safety standards. Not only would this paralyze agencies with busywork, but it would further politicize the rulemaking process.

In addition, the legislation would improperly expand the scope of judicial review by requiring judges to assess cost-benefit analyses that they do not have the economic, technical and scientific expertise to evaluate. This unprecedented role for the courts is just a recipe for more litigation, endless delays and greater uncertainty for regulated industries and the public.

 

Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA), H.R. 527 / S. 426

Status: Passed by the House on Feb. 5. Introduced in the Senate on Feb. 10 and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

Similar to the RAA, the SBRFIA would increase unnecessary and lengthy regulatory delays by adding a host of new analytical requirements for agency policy actions – including rulemakings and guidance documents. These new requirements would make it nearly impossible for agencies to fulfill their mission of protecting the public and responding to emerging health and environmental dangers. The bill makes no attempt to target its new analytical requirements at rules that actually affect small businesses. Instead, the bill is a Trojan horse claiming to help small businesses while blocking new safeguards that apply only to big business.

The legislation treats any rule that has “indirect effects” or “revenue effects” on small businesses as a rule that impacts small business, without ever defining those terms. In practice, this means agencies will be pressured to treat every new rule as impacting small business. For example, new Wall Street reforms that, in reality, apply only to the biggest banks, or new environmental protections that apply only to giant energy companies, would be delayed or blocked due to fictitious small business impacts.

To make matters worse, the SBRFIA inappropriately increases the authority of the Office of Advocacy in the Small Business Administration, expanding its role in the regulatory process across multiple agencies and into decisions far beyond its expertise and mandate. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the Office acts as a taxpayer-funded voice for large corporations and the trade associations dominated by them – not small businesses. The office routinely repackages and submits talking points provided by corporate lobbyists as formal comments – making no effort to understand the science behind the critical health and safety issues in consideration or to determine whether its positions represent the views and interests of small businesses. It makes no sense to let the Office weigh in on health and safety standards across every federal agency.

 

Other anti-regulatory bills to watch:

The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act, H.R. 712
Status: Introduced in the House on Feb. 4 and referred to the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law.

The Secret Science Reform Act, H.R. 1030
Status: Introduced in the House on Feb. 24 and referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

The Regulatory Responsibility for our Economy Act, S. 168
Status: Introduced in the Senate on Jan. 13 and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB Act) Act, H.R. 1155
Status: Introduced in the House on Feb. 27 and referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

 

Call on Congress to listen

We urge you to call on Congress to listen to the American people and stop these attacks on our system of public protections. Your editorial voice is important in the debate. Please tell Congress to oppose these anti-regulatory bills and look out for the public interest instead of corporate interests. These bills are not only bad for the country, but they are counter to the views of most Americans. Congress should stop trying to undermine the agencies and safeguards that protect us all.

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The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards fights for regulations that protect American workers and families. We are a national alliance of more than 150 consumer, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental and public interest groups representing millions of Americans. For more information about the coalition, go to SensibleSafeguards.org