Category Archives: Congress

If Big Business Wrote a Letter to Santa Claus this is What It Would Say

If Big Business wrote a bill to help itself get rid of regulations it didn’t like, what would that bill look like?

We don’t have to guess anymore. This week, a group of legislators introduced the Regulatory Improvement Act, a bill designed to “improve” our nation’s regulatory system, remove “government bureaucracy and red tape,” and help businesses avoid the “burden” of complying with safeguards and standards that protect our health, safety, environment and workers. Their solution? Have politicians appoint a panel to recommend regulations for Congress to ax in a rushed process.

The bill sets up a so-called “Regulatory Improvement Commission” tasked with an already predetermined outcome. That outcome is deregulation, plain and simple. Deregulation, you probably remember, led to the financial crisis of 2008. In a time when we’ve seen so many instances of industry bad actors — including at least 13 deaths due to faulty GM ignition switches that company officials knew had problems, years of toxic air pollution and water pollution from giant companies, and financial service companies like Sallie Mae taking advantage of our veterans — should we really be thinking about how to remove vital public protections for our health, safety, environment and financial security?

The commission’s mandate would be to modify, consolidate or repeal existing regulations to reduce compliance costs for business, completely ignoring the tremendous societal benefits that standards and safeguards give to the American people.

While it takes years for a federal agency to get a final rule out the door after numerous periods of public comment and review, this commission could erase this beneficial work within months. The review process is blatantly tilted toward benefitting corporate interests rather than the public interest. The procedure for how public comments on the commission’s reports are received, and even the way the commission is tasked with writing its reports on regulations are all slanted to examining the burden on businesses, never the benefits to the public. For instance, even the “costs” associated with doing taxes counts as a burden!

Supporters argue that the commission can review only those regulations finalized more than 10 years ago. Just think of how much progress we have made in the past four decades from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and much, much more. Regulations created from these and other laws would now be at stake.

And if there is an outdated regulation that could be removed, would it be worth all of this effort? There may well be a regulation pertaining to floppy disks, fax machines or pagers—but no one uses them anymore, and those regulations aren’t costing us anything to have written down somewhere. Is it worth setting up a new commission to remove superfluous regulations like that? Besides, most agencies already look back at existing rules – in a process that is far more careful and less politicized than the one this bill proposes.

And after all this, the commission is completely unaccountable to the public. The bill expressly states that the commission is exempt from the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (which requires public accessibility to meetings, open meetings and written advanced notice of a meeting a minimum of 15 days prior). According to the Regulatory Improvement Act, if just one member of the commission objects to a meeting being public, that meeting can be held in private.

Our vision for regulatory improvement

Nowhere does the Regulatory Improvement Act provide a way to update standards, make them stronger or more effective. If we were to write our own Regulatory Improvement Act, we would call for a regulatory review process that focuses attention on the need for stronger controls on corporations and expanded protections for the public.

Just because something is repeated often does not make it true. There is not an overabundance of regulation in this country. In reality, too much of our regulatory system has today slowed to a crawl, thanks in part to Big Business pushing at every point in the process to slow or stop new standards. They lobby against new laws; they lobby against new rules that agencies write under the existing laws; and then they lobby against strong enforcement of the rules that do get through.

By updating safeguards to better protect the public and making sure corporate bad actors are held accountable, our vision of regulatory improvement will be creating a system of standards and safeguards that better protects health and safety and puts everyone on a more equal footing, creating a fair economy for all.

The Real “Tsunami” in Federal Regulatory Policy

(This post originally appeared on CPRBlog, the blog of the Center for Progressive Reform)

By Rena Steinzor, President of the Center for Progressive Reform | May 22, 2014

The federal regulatory system is in crisis. For the past several decades, a damaging set of mandates has continued to pile up on the books—mandates that threaten to stifle critical progress and undermine the nation’s ability to compete in the world economy. Even today, out-of-touch policymakers are attempting to add still more of these mandates, without regard to their direct, indirect, and cumulative costs to society. One might say that we are facing a tsunami, a flood, or even an avalanche of these mandates. Continue reading The Real “Tsunami” in Federal Regulatory Policy

Happy 5th Birthday, CARD Act!

As the CARD Act of 2009 turns five, consumers benefit from protection from predatory credit card companies

Millions of credit card holders have benefited both from the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act), and the regulatory and enforcement authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which administers the law. This important safeguard, which turns 5 today, has protected and benefited consumers in significant ways.

Economists have estimated that consumers have saved $20 billion annually from the reduced fines, fees and interest rate hikes that were routinely forced on consumers before the law’s passage. The CARD Act also protects college students and teens from unfair credit card practices and sets new standards for safeguarding the value of gift cards.

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Click here to see our full infographic on the benefits of the CARD Act!

Researchers have found that the predicted costs of complying with the CARD Act were not passed on to consumers through other rate hikes or restricting access to credit, as industry groups claimed would be the case.[1]

The CFPB has a variety of tools for protecting credit card holders, including rulemaking, enforcement authority and consumer complaint submissions. In 2013, the CFPB collected some 16,600 consumer complaints against credit card companies. Importantly, CFPB’s public consumer complaint database is working. Companies are given the chance to respond to every complaint. According to the agency, 68 percent of consumers were satisfied with the response from their credit card company.[2] The CFPB has also brought enforcement actions against major credit card companies for a range of abusive practices. The result: more than $800 million in refunds to millions of Americans.[3]

The CARD Act’s success shows that good, effective regulation not only protects consumers, it also makes markets work better. A strong system of safeguards and standards helps Americans by making sure that our economy and financial marketplace is fair and working for everyone, not just bankers and big corporations, some of which participated in the Wall Street excesses that killed millions of jobs and eroded Americans’ financial security.

 

[1] http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20130930005300/en/CARD-Act-Saving-Consumers-20.8-Billion-Year#.U3ZjPYFdXDo

[2] http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201403_cfpb_consumer-response-annual-report-complaints.pdf

[3] http://www.uspirg.org/news/usp/cfpb-gets-results-orders-chase-bank-repay-consumers-over-300-million-over-sale-junky-credit

In Remembrance: Workers Memorial Day 2014

(Cross-posted from the Center for Effective Government Blog)

by Katie Weatherford, 4/28/2014

April 28 is Worker’s Memorial Day, an international day for remembering workers who have been injured or killed as a result of on-the-job incidents or long-term occupational illnesses. On this day, we also celebrate the substantial progress made in protecting workers over the forty-plus years since theOccupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was enacted and remember how critical it is to continue the important work of ensuring our workers’ health and safety.

In advance of Workers Memorial Day, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) released its annual report, 2014 Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities.  Among many highlights, the report provides case studies of seven workers who died in 2013 and 2014.  Notably, each of these individuals was employed in very different occupational settings, from a warehouse worker to a cinematographer to an airport baggage handler, showing how “any job can become dangerous at a moment’s notice.”

These seven workers are representative of thousands of workers who die every year in the United States.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,383 workers were killed on the job in 2012, which means that every day, 12 workers did not return home to their loved ones. In addition to on-the-job deaths, 50,000-plus workers die every year from long-term occupational illnesses.


View the full infographic.

Considering the 14,000 workplace deaths that occurred in 1970, it is clear that the OSH Act has played a significant role in reducing workplace deaths and improving worker health and safety. In fact, more than 492,000 workers’ lives have been saved since the OSH Act became law. It is crucial that this progress continue so that when someone leaves for work, they can rest assured they will return home safely at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, Congress has not provided OSHA with the resources it needs to carry out the agency’s important work. OSHA’s budget has continued to decline every year since 2010. The agency also lacks the staffing it needs to inspect the approximately 9 million workplaces across the country. At present, OSHA operates with only 2,200 federal and state inspectors who oversee more than 130 million workers, or one inspector for every 59,000 workers. This means that each workplace might only be inspected once every 105 years. Clearly OSHA needs more, not fewer, resources for its inspection and enforcement activities. (For a visual representation of these numbers, check out our Workers Memorial Day infographic here).

This Workers Memorial Day, let’s remember our friends, family members, and colleagues who have been killed or injured at work. Starting April 29, let us join together to redouble our efforts to protect workers and ensure that worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses continue to decline every year by demanding Congress give OSHA the resources it needs to continue its critical work.

GM Cut Corners and People Died. Will Anyone Be Held Accountable?

General Motors must be held accountable for negligence leading to the deaths of 13 drivers. We have now learned that GM could have avoided the faulty ignition switch issue if it had paid an extra 90 cents per car. GM and the responsible corporate officers at the company must be held accountable and face criminal penalties for killing people – but under current law, that won’t happen.

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We need to demand stronger public protections so that corporations aren’t incentivized to break the law

As we see time and time again, some corporations put profits ahead of customer safety. Richard Cohen writes, “[GM] is a bloodless corporation that was — remember? — quite willing to insist to some poor victim that it was not the same GM that had made the faulty car.”

This is, of course, not the only example of corporate wrongdoing or negligence which has led to immeasurable human costs. Tales like these are happening every day. On Thursday, Anadarko Petroleum was fined by the federal government over its harmful environmental practices, including leaving radioactive waste piles in Navajo Nation territory. The negligence and sheer lack of concern for anything but profits left 7,000 people sick from radioactive waste.

And as we all know, not one Wall Street executive was put in prison for gambling away the hard-earned savings and retirement accounts of millions of Americans. Big banks crashed the economy, leading to the worst economic crisis we’ve had since the Great Depression — millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes and their financial security. So you’d think that the executives would be in trouble, but instead, we bailed them out.

Our nation’s system of public protections needs to be strengthened so that those responsible don’t get away with their crimes. How is any company incentivized to act according to the law if corporations pay just a small fine to make their problems go away?

As a country, we must establish clear criminal penalties for cases where there was a failure to inform and warn and strengthen our federal rulemaking agencies — not just NHTSA — that have the responsibility of setting standards to protect the public from just this sort of corporate corner-cutting.

Finally, we need to ensure companies take health and safety seriously — that they don’t see loss of life of workers as a “cost of doing business” that they are willing to absorb because the fines are low. Today, even the biggest companies in the country can be fined just $7,000 for an individual safety violation that could lead to a worker’s death. Today, we see companies facing penalties for their negligence such as GM, Anadarko and Wall Street banks — but no one involved will go to jail. We need a more serious deterrent: the real threat of jail time for a corporate officer who knowingly avoided consumer and worker safety to increase profits.

 

 

The SCRUB Act: Another Anti-Regulatory Bill Targets Health, Safety, and Environmental Protections

(Cross-posted from the The Fine Print, the Center for Effective Government’s blog)

by Katie Weatherford, February 18, 2014

On Feb. 11, the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on yet another anti-regulatory bill that attempts to undermine our nation’s important health, safety, and environmental protections. The bill, entitled the “Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act of 2014,” would establish a “retrospective regulatory review commission” that would grant unaccountable, non-expert political appointees the power to override our nation’s most crucial health, safety, and environmental safeguards. Continue reading The SCRUB Act: Another Anti-Regulatory Bill Targets Health, Safety, and Environmental Protections

Congressional Mandates Obstructed, Public Pays the Price

On October 25, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards co-sponsored Delayed, Diluted and Defunct: How Congressional Mandates are Thwarted by the Broken Regulatory Process, a briefing for Senate staff.

The speakers presented a series of examples of congressional mandates for public protections that were or are stalled or weakened in the rulemaking process — from food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act to consumer financial protections mandated by the Dodd-Frank law and air pollution controls required by the Clean Air Act.

The speakers described the consequences of regulatory delay, such as when lives are lost while a worker safety regulation is delayed due to political interference or demands for additional analysis. They argued for transparency and de-ossifying the rulemaking process, and warned against a series of congressional bills that would make it harder for agencies to issue new protections mandated by congress.

Our thanks to the speakers: Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen; John Walke, Director of Clean Air Program, Natural Resources Defense Council; Peg Seminario, Health and Safety Director, AFL-CIO; Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest; Marcus Stanley, Policy Director, Americans for Financial Reform; Katherine McFate, President, Center for Effective Government.

To the sponsoring organizations: Center for Effective Government, Center for Progressive Reform, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, and the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards

And to the host, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Actions.

Among the materials provided at the briefing:

Bill in Congress:

  • Decoding the Bill: Lobbying Records Show That Electric Utility Industry Dominates Push for Deregulatory ‘REINS’ Legislation (Public Citizen)
  • The Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act: Politicizing Independent Agencies and Putting Americans in Harm’s Way (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)
  • The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2013: Legislation Would Override and Threaten Decades of Public Protections (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)
  • Return of the Regulatory Accountability Act: A Veiled Threat to Public Protections (Center for Effective Government)
  • Republican Bills Would Obstruct Enforcement of Environmental Laws (NRDC)
  • The REINS Act: Why Congress Should Hold its Horses (NRDC)

Regulatory Delay:

  • Clarity on Clean Water Protection Is Coming, but How Long Will it Take? (Center for Effective Government)
  • Testimony of Peg Seminario, Director Safety and Health, AFL-CIO Before the Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on “Justice Delayed: The Human Cost of Regulatory Paralysis” (AFL-CIO)
  • Down the Regulatory Rabbit Hole: How Corporate Influence, Judicial Review and a Lack of Transparency Delay Crucial Rules and Harm the Public (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)

Broken Regulatory Process:

  • Disclosure at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: Written Comments and Telephone Records Suspiciously Absent (Center for Effective Government)
  • Key Recommendations for The Next Regulatory Czar’s Critical Mission: Will He Rebuild a Regulatory System that Works for the Public Interest? (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)
  • The Perils of OIRA Regulatory Review: Reforms Needed to Address Rampant Delays and Secrecy (Public Citizen)
  • President’s Spring Agenda Signals Continued Delays on New Rules (Center for Effective Government)