WASHINGTON (PAI) — Not content with overturning Obama administration rules – including pro-worker rules, pro-consumer rules and environmental rules – one by one in the federal courts, the Republican-run Congress is scheming to toss them out, wholesale.
In one measure, HR5982, the Midnight Rules Act, the House GOP majority plans to invoke a Gingrich-era federal law to throw out every single rule that administration agencies have approved, implemented or are proposing, starting last May.
That includes not just rules judges tossed, such as the one that would have expanded eligibility for overtime pay starting on December 1, but also ones in the pipeline and near final approval, such as a crackdown on worker exposure to beryllium dust, which can cause cancer.
The GOP-run House passed HR5982 on a party-line 240-179 vote on November 17, thus getting the jump on their own president-elect, Donald Trump, who vows to undo multitudes of Obama administration rules.
Obama’s senior advisors reply the current president, their boss, will trash the legislation. They’ve already told lawmakers they’ll recommend Obama veto the GOP-pushed bill.
The Midnight Rules Act would use the Gingrich-era Congressional Review Act (CRA) to dump Obama administration rules en masse, by including rules – worker rights rules, environmental rules, and more – in one piece of legislation negating all of them. The CRA rules ban bill would go all the way back to May 16, Judiciary Committee Democrats say. And it would bar agencies from trying to push through similar rules in future years.
That’s important, because it means that pro-worker rules would not only be dumped now, but – for practical purposes – for all time.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat on the committee that handles workers’ issues, made that point during the floor debate. He said that besides the beryllium rule, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has worked on for 18 years, other workers’ rules would be at risk, and, in so many words, dead forever.
They include the Labor Department’s Fair Play and Safe Workplaces rule, telling federal contracting officers to take into account a company’s labor record – including its labor law-breaking – before awarding federal contracts. And they also include the Obama DOL’s rule for paid family and medical leave for workers toiling for federal contractors, Scott said.
Right now, the CRA lets Congress dump rules one by one, and that’s all. The first – and only—time the GOP successfully used the CRA was to eliminate the Labor Department’s ergonomic regulations. The Labor Department hasn’t even tried to bring ergonomics up again.
“Midnight rules present strong institutional concerns for the voters, Congress and incoming presidential administrations,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., argued. But in his committee’s report on HR5982, Goodlatte’s next sentence makes clear the Midnight Rules bill is a partisan shot specifically at Obama’s regulations.
“First and foremost, midnight rules can be issued to thwart or blunt an electoral mandate issued by the voters, as a defeated administration or party leaves office. A wave of midnight regulations also can overwhelm Congress’ ability to check regulatory overreach through CRA disapproval resolutions, oversight and other means,” Goodlatte claims.
News reports add HR5982 would also scotch the Federal Railroad Administration’s plan – even with several loopholes – to require two-person crews on most U.S. freight trains. The railroads are pushing for one-person crews and at least one rail executive, from BNSF, wants nobody at all on the freights.
Unions and their members, led by the Rail Division of Smart – the old United Transportation Union – and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/IBT have been lobbying hard to make the two-person crew rule as tight as possible, in the wake of fatal crashes of one-person-crewed trains. So has Railway Workers United, a rank-and-file organization of unionized rail workers from Smart, BLE&T, the Machinists and other unions.
Two more OSHA rules, including one ordering construction firms to institute tougher measures to prevent fatal falls, are at risk. The falls are a top cause of worker death on the job.
The Judiciary Committee’s Democrats, who were heavily outvoted, said HR5982 is a solution in search of a problem.
“As with the many other anti-regulatory measures our committee has considered this Congress, HR5982 is a dangerous solution to an undocumented problem,” they said. Most so-called midnight rules under both Democratic and Republican administrations, they said, “were under active consideration long before the election.” Others “involved routine matters” or are needed to meet congressional or court-ordered deadlines.
“The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards—an alliance of more than 150 consumer, labor, research, faith, and other public interest groups—similarly concurs, noting the bill is based on a fatally flawed premise: Namely, that regulations which are proposed or finalized during the so-called ‘midnight’ rulemaking period are rushed and inadequately vetted,’” the Democrats said. The coalition includes the Teamsters, the Economic Policy Institute, the National Consumers League, the Steelworkers, Union Plus, the Service Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers, AFSCME, the Teachers, the Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO.
“In fact, the House has already passed legislation to establish a moratorium on midnight rules,” the Judiciary Democrats concluded (their emphasis). That measure bars “certain federal agencies” – which are not named – from proposing new rules in the current transition between the Obama administration and Trump’s presidency.