GOP House majority rushes to halt future pro-worker rules

WASHINGTON (PAI) — Not content with trying to dump pro-worker regulations by the prior Democratic Obama administration – either one by one or in huge batches – the GOP U.S. House majority wants to halt virtually all future rules, too.

Their vehicle: A bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, pushed through over labor and consumer opposition, a week before Republican President Donald Trump took office.

And then Trump’s chief of staff, the night the new president took office, put every pending rule – including pro-consumer and pro-worker rules – on hold.

The measure, HR5, passed 238-183 on Jan. 11, slows every rule that a federal agency would issue – for workers, consumers, the environment or anything else – to a crawl. That gives lobbyists time and leverage to stop them, says AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel.

“This sweeping bill…would upend 40 years of labor, health, safety and environmental laws (and) threaten new needed protections leaving workers and the public in danger,” Samuel wrote to lawmakers before the vote. He urged them to vote no.

Samuel said the measure would also shut the public out of testifying about such rules. And HR5’s sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., crowed that it would make federal judges the ultimate arbiters over every rule, able to ignore agency experts and judgments in the field. A 32-year-old Supreme Court decision backs the agencies.

All of those provisions combined could sink virtually any pro-worker initiative, from job safety and health rules to consumer protection and more, according to House Democrats, Samuel and AFSCME Legislative Director Scott Frey.

“This reckless legislation would severely undermine the nation’s ability to ensure workers are safe on the job and in the marketplace,” Frey said. It “would effectively end the federal government’s ability to enact new protections” for everyone. “Instead, the Regulatory Accountability Act looks to protect businesses from people as a platform for policymaking.”

Their points fell on deaf ears in the House, though the Senate may be another matter.

Five House Democrats – James Costa (Calif.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Kurt Schrader (Ore.) – joined 233 Republicans in voting for HR5. The other 183 Democrats voted no. But in the Senate, the GOP holds a narrow 52-48 seat edge, and usually needs 60 votes to pass anything. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has yet to schedule hearings on HR5.

“The RAA acts as a ‘super mandate’ overriding the requirements of landmark legislation such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Mine Safety and Health Act,” Samuel

explained. It “would require agencies to adopt the least costly rule, instead of the most protective rule” those two laws now require, for example. “It would make protecting workers and the public secondary to limiting costs and impacts on businesses and corporations.”

“Nobody favors excessive cost, but this requirement overrides the carefully balanced requirements in OSHA that require life and limb must be fully protected, provided the safety requirements are technically and economically feasible. That is the present law,” Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., top Democrat on the ideologically polarized House Education and the Workforce Committee told his colleagues during the debate.

“The question that needs to be asked is: The least cost to whom and at what cost to others? What is the least cost mandate protection of workers? Is the least cost mandate” better than “to worker safety, in order to limit cost to corporations? And then again, who decides?” Scott asked. He then tried to exempt OSHA and mine safety and health rules from HR5, but lost on a 195-227 vote.

HR5 would also apply to labor law, Samuel warned. It “would subject all agencies – including independent agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to these new analytical and procedural requirements.

“It would be much more difficult for agencies to develop and issue new financial reform rules and consumer protection rules required under recently enacted legislation,” he added.

“The RAA will not improve the regulatory process; it will cripple it,” Samuel said. OSHA already takes years – and sometimes decades – to issue new rules protecting workers against hazardous substances. HR5 would only make that even worse.

And it’s not just rules, Samuel warned. An agency’s “guidance” – recommendations to deal with specific problems or groups of workers and businesses – would also be halted. One example of a halt that would have been exceptionally harmful had HR5 been in place last year: The Center for Disease Control’s guidance to hospitals about how to protect their workers from contracting Ebola while treating victims of the virus.

Nurses unions welcomed that “guidance” even though they wanted something even stronger from the CDC. Samuel said that under HR5, the health care workers wouldn’t even get the minimal protection of the guidance.

Consumers would suffer “severe damage” to their “health, safety and honest treatment” from “this dangerous proposal,” said Consumers Union, whose staff is unionized. “Congress has charged federal agencies with protecting the public from threats such as tainted food, hazardous products, dirty air and water, and predatory financial schemes.” All those protections would be jeopardized, said Consumers Union Vice President Laura McCleery.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jarvis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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