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Call Them What They Are: Bills to Kill Laws Corporations Don’t Like

Two dangerous bills that would hobble the ability of federal agencies to protect the public interest are likely to hit the House floor by the end of this month.  If enacted, the bills would effectively allow future Congresses, the courts, and special interests to undermine laws intended to protect the well-being of workers, children, seniors, and the public as a whole.

Generally, when Congress passes a law and the president signs it, an agency is given the job of determining the best ways to implement the law by creating comprehensive and effective rules and regulations.   The agency is tasked with this responsibility in the text of the statute, which mandates the results that must be achieved and the boundaries that guide the process.  Working to fulfill these Congressional mandates, the agency draws on its expertise to find the best ways for the goals of the law to be realized in service of the public good.

The proposed bills would severely interfere with the rulemaking process, virtually assuring that new laws passed by Congress would not take effect for over a decade, if ever.  They would also open the doors to undermining current laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act, allowing lawmakers influenced by special interests to halt new rules without ever having to take a direct stance against a law popular with their constituents.

The Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 3010) is a dream come true for corporate special interests pushing to block or weaken regulatory safeguards in order to maximize profits.  It would make bottom-line costs to businesses the number one factor in evaluating all government rules, with public health and safety only a secondary consideration.  This bill would upend generations of health, safety, and environmental regulations and laws designed to protect citizens from discrimination and corporate abuses by drastically changing the process of how rules are made.

A bottom-line cost analysis would trump any other language in laws that say the top priority should be to do the best job to protect Americans; money and profits would undermine the safety and well-being of people.  Quantitative costs would be pitted against the more intangible qualitative benefits as agencies would be required to adopt the “least costly” possible option for every potential rule that could be considered.  By this standard, agencies would find themselves on a never-ending treadmill of analyzing every possible alternative to a proposed rule when seeking to address immediate and current threats such as Salmonella-tainted food and the immediate and ongoing impact of disasters like the BP oil spill.  Just as importantly, the bill would virtually end the ability of agencies to implement preventative safety measures that could keep these and other harmful acts from happening in the first place.

The bill would also open the floodgates for new legal challenges that would tip the balance of rule-making power in favor of those with enough money, time, and power to hire and retain high-cost legal assistance to mount sustained objections to agency action.  The entire process could be halted by anyone bringing a court challenge to claim that another, less costly, rule was not considered or decided upon, at which point judges would be thrust into the role of rule-making by inserting their own opinion about whether quantifiable costs outweigh the qualitative benefits of a rule.  The act virtually mandates that judges enter the legislative and executive arenas by becoming regulators.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011 (H.R. 10/S. 299), also known as “REINS,” is even more blatant in its attempt to bring regulations to a screeching halt.  REINS would require congressional approval of all major rules within 70 days, essentially asking Congress to go back and re-legislate the legislation it has already passed and sent on to the agencies for enforcement.  It would give those on the losing side of a Congressional vote a second bite at the apple, letting them block, piece by piece, the ways in which laws take effect.  It provides a sleight-of-hand way to freeze a broad array of regulations ranging from clean air protections to workplace safety regulations to food and toy safety measures to controls on Wall Street.

Our federal agencies exist to protect people, not to save industries money. Blocking, weakening or delaying critical standards and safeguards will result in more illness caused by unsafe food; more erosion of the quality of our air and water; more preventable job injuries that harm workers and employers; continued vulnerability to economic catastrophes; and greater loss of privacy. What’s more, multiple surveys show that regulations are not a major concern for small businesses – what they need are more customers and more certainty about our economy’s future.

The Regulatory Accountability Act and REINS Act protect big businesses at the expense of our communities and families.

Click here to learn more about the public protections that will be affected by RAA.