Citizen Health & Safety
Vote Imminent on House Bill that Would Shut Down Safeguards
The House will vote later this week on the misleadingly titled "Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act." The bill is a brazen attempt to shut down the system of public safeguards that protects our air, water, food, consumer products, and economy and would do nothing to create jobs.
The bill has been nicknamed "the regnibus" because when it comes to the floor, it will comprise seven different pieces of anti-regulatory legislation, each of which would have been objectionable on its own. The most prominent of the bills is the so-called "Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act," which is designed to paralyze the regulatory system until the unemployment rate falls and stays below six percent. Other components of the bill include:
- An additional moratorium on public protections during an outgoing president's time as a "lame duck."
- Additional opportunities for "interveners" – typically deep-pocketed polluters and large corporations – to obstruct or delay federal consent decrees and settlement agreements reached in lawsuits challenging unreasonable delay by federal agencies in establishing standards authorized by Congress. This would clog our already overburdened courts and harm plaintiffs – corporations, state and local governments, nonprofit groups, and individual Americans – by delaying important health and safety measures.
- A new layer of duplicative and unnecessary analytical requirements in the rulemaking process and additional opportunities for those who oppose safeguards to challenge analyses in court. These new, poorly-defined mandates would make agencies' analyses less reliable while simultaneously increasing litigation, causing regulatory delay and uncertainty.
- Weakened oversight rules that would make future disasters more likely. Despite the massive British Petroleum oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the legislation would make it easier for companies to acquire energy permit approvals without addressing critical environmental concerns.
Placing a moratorium on the regulatory system is the most brazen attack on public protections in recent memory. Testifying before a congressional committee in 2011, Cass Sunstein, President Obama's top regulatory official, said "a moratorium would not be a scalpel or a machete, it would be more like a nuclear bomb, in the sense that it would prevent regulations that, let's say, cost very little, and have significant economic or public health benefits." He went on to say that a regulatory moratorium would hamstring the government's ability to protect Americans from unreasonable risks – including, for example, the current Salmonella outbreak, which could have been mitigated by more stringent food safety rules or the 2010 Michigan oil spill, which could have been prevented by stronger pipeline safety measures.
A moratorium would mean that this Congress would be directing federal agencies to ignore laws established by previous Congresses. Executive agencies generate rules to implement the laws passed by Congress and signed by the president. Without legislation, the executive branch cannot act. A blanket moratorium gives cover to those who want to weaken the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other existing legislation that is too popular with the public to repeal.
Congress already has the tools it needs to revise regulations. It can pass new legislation that repeals existing law or use the Congressional Review Act (which allows Congress to disapprove a specific agency rule). A regulatory moratorium of the type contained in the regnibus bill is simply a blunt, ideological tool meant to shut down the public protections system.
Moreover, this attack on the regulatory system would not accomplish the ends its sponsors advertise. Despite its name, the bill would not reduce red tape (on the contrary, it imposes redundant procedural hurdles) or help small businesses create jobs. Public and private experts, business owners, and a majority of economists have repeatedly noted that the American regulatory system is good for business and does not impede job growth. A top official at the Treasury Department conducted a thorough analysis of economic data and concluded, "None of these data support the claim that regulatory uncertainly is holding back hiring." Survey after survey of economists, including one conducted by The Wall Street Journal, report that the overwhelming majority of economists believe lack of demand, rather than uncertainty about government policy, is the main obstacle to increased hiring.
The sponsors of the regnibus bill claim that it will jumpstart economic growth, but there is no evidence that this legislation would create jobs or help small businesses grow. What it clearly would do is stop the agencies that protect the quality of life in America and the health and well-being of American families from carrying out that important work.