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 (RAA), 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 to a crawl every rule that a federal agency would issue, for workers, consumers, the environment or anything else. That gives lobbies time and leverage to stop it, 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 turn it down.
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 federal agencies.
All of those provisions combined could sink virtually any pro-worker initiative, from job safety and health rules to consumer protection and more, House Democrats, Samuel and AFSCME Legislative Director Scott Frey all said.
“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 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.”
"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.
“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," Scott said. “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.