Senate Should Reject Snowe-Coburn Amendment to Small Business Bill

Measure Would Hamstring Agencies’ Ability to Protect Public Health and Safety, Coalition for Sensible Safeguards Says

May 3, 2011

Contact: Angela Bradbery (202) 588-7741 or abradbery@citizen.org
Brian Gumm (202) 683-4812 or bgumm@ombwatch.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate should vote down a proposal from Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would hamstring a variety of public health and safety agencies, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS) said today.

The proposal, known as the Small Business Regulatory Freedom Act, is being offered as an amendment to S. 493, a reauthorization of parts of the Small Business Act.

Snowe is couching the legislation as a way to ease requirements on small businesses, but the amendment’s actual effect would be to saddle agencies with so much extra analytical baggage that they would no longer be able to set public health and welfare standards in a timely way. The amendment would benefit big businesses more than small, including the dangerous minority of businesses always looking for loopholes they can use to avoid workplace safety standards, consumer protection laws, air and water quality standards, and a number of other protections.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said, “In the wake of the Wall Street-induced Great Recession, the BP oil spill disaster, the Massey Energy coal mine collapse, lead toy scandals, and salmonella outbreaks – corporate catastrophes all traceable to inadequate oversight and enforcement – this proposal is an outrageous attack on government’s ability to provide basic health, safety, environmental and other vital protections to the American people.”

“This amendment is dangerous to public welfare and allows corporate influences to shape regulations,” said Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch. “Delaying critical safeguards while American workers, children, families, communities, and responsible businesses continue to be put at risk is simply unconscionable.”

Specifically, the Snowe-Coburn amendment would:

  • Complicate regulatory cost-benefit analysis by forcing agencies to consider additional criteria.
  • Allow businesses to take an agency to court over a rule before the rule is even finished.
  • Make agency Inspectors General (IG) the enforcers of the currently required “look-back” process, where agencies search to see if a rule is already on the books. If an agency’s look-back is not satisfactory, one percent of the agency’s budget would be eliminated, politicizing both the process and the IG offices.
  • Give the obscure Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration (SBA) the right to convene a panel of industry representatives to review an agency rule before the rule is made public.

“The ability of federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect the public’s health and welfare is already severely hampered by the multitude of obstacles that current federal law puts in the way of any new safeguards,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “Reviews by small business panels, cost-benefit analyses, and OMB review already ensure that no new regulation is put in place without extensive, often years-long, consideration. We do not need to add duplicative and burdensome new layers of red tape to this existing system.”

The amendment would authorize additional federal funds to SBA to implement the proposal’s requirements. It would pay for this funding increase by eliminating SBA’s Drug-Free Workplace Program and Small Business Energy Efficiency Program. Snowe and Coburn also propose to eliminate the Veterans Assistance and Services Program at SBA, which helps members of the Armed Forces start small businesses when they return from their tours of duty.

S. 493 has been on the floor of the Senate for weeks, but votes on the Snowe-Coburn and other amendments are expected to take place soon.

###

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards is a coalition of consumer, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups, as well as concerned individuals, joined in the belief that our country’s system of regulatory safeguards provides a stable framework that secures our quality of life and paves the way for a sound economy that benefits us all.