By Sam Berger, Center for American Progress
Don’t let the innocuous name fool you: The Regulatory Accountability Act recently introduced in the Senate is nothing less than President Donald Trump’s License to Kill Bill. Described as the means of realizing Steve Bannon’s dream to deconstruct the government, this bill is part of Trump’s two-step strategy to first strip people of important health, safety, and consumer protections and then prevent agencies from ever protecting people from these harms again. By hamstringing the dedicated public servants charged with ensuring everything from safe infant formula to clean drinking water to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, this bill would put corporate profits before people’s lives and livelihoods.
More than 100 days into the administration, the nation has a good understanding of what “regulatory accountability” means to Trump. The president and Congress have already used the obscure Congressional Review Act to repeal 13 regulations, including protections against toxic pollutants in drinking water, exploitative and illegal labor practices by federal contractors, and the sale of your browser history by internet service providers without your consent. The end result: more than $700 million in annual giveaways to corporations, at the cost of millions of dollars in reduced wages, a net loss of jobs, and the elimination of a wide range of important consumer protections.
And Trump has been clear that these repeals are just the beginning. He’s begun efforts to undermine a rule that keeps financial advisors from cheating clients, which would cost people $17 billion a year in retirement savings. He’s also holding up new overtime protections for millions of Americans, which could reduce wages by $12 billion over the next 10 years. And his head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed the agency’s earlier decision to ban a common agricultural pesticide that the agency’s scientists, after an extensive risk assessment, had concluded can damage the neurological development of children. Moreover, because of its wide-ranging scope, the bill would even hamstring the ability of financial regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to put in place regulations that rein in Wall Street and prevent financial crises. Given that the last major financial crisis stuck the United States with a price tag of 8.7 million lost jobs, 10 percent unemployment, and $19 trillion in lost wealth, these are regulations the nation needs to have in place.
Trump’s License to Kill Bill would not only make permanent devastating repeals of critical protections for the middle class, but also eliminate protections from future harms. This bill upends the current regulatory process in order to make costs to industry more important than benefits to the public; make it harder for agencies to respond to new threats to health and safety; and make it easier for large corporations to hold up necessary protections in court.
The bill would turbocharge the industry playbook for opposing needed protections, which focuses on delaying implementation and arguing for more cost-effective alternatives. Automobile manufacturers, for example, used these arguments to delay mandatory airbags for 20 years, suggesting less expensive automatic seatbelts were an adequate substitute. In the interim, these delay tactics likely resulted in 90,000 preventable deaths. Industry recognizes the benefits this bill would reap; a Center for American Progress study found that more than 70 corporations and industry trade associations lobbied Congress during the first quarter of 2017, spending millions to pass it.
The Regulatory Accountability Act would bog agencies down in so much red tape and litigation that they could never respond to emerging threats to consumer welfare, public health, or safety. Agencies would be forced to engage in endless analysis of the potential effects of their proposal and a number of alternate ones, hold time-consuming, trial-like proceedings to resolve any technical or scientific issue raised by industry, and be tied up in court as judges second-guess every decision that would now be subject to judicial review.
Meanwhile, the next unsafe carcinogen found in worksites would go unregulated, as workers pay the price. The next financial scam would continue unabated, as consumers lose their hard-earned money. The next unsafe product would find its way into millions of homes, and families would be put at risk. The next threat to the economy’s financial stability would go unchecked, and all of us could suffer as a result. All so that corporations could pad their profits by playing by a different set of rules than everyone else.
This bill would provide big business with a license to pollute, to cheat, and, yes, to kill. And those charged with protecting us would be powerless to stop it, stripped of their authority as part of Trump’s plan to enrich his friends and impoverish everyone else. The Trump administration will do significant damage to hardworking families over the next four years. And if Trump’s License to Kill Bill passes, we may never be able to undo the harm.