Still just a few weeks into the new year, both chambers of Congress are making it clear that attacks on our system of regulatory safeguards will remain a top priority in 2016. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives has already passed—along partisan lines—two antiregulatory measures, and the Senate appears poised to follow suit with their own antiregulatory package expected to drop sometime this week.
CPR Member Scholars and staff are tracking all of these developments, working to educate policymakers about how these bills would make it all but impossible for protector agencies like the EPA and the FDA to fulfill their statutory mission of safeguarding people and the environment against unacceptable risks. (A summary of their criticisms of the two House bills can be found in a series of letters that were sent to House leadership—see here and here.)
Yesterday, the New York Times joined in this chorus with a pointed editorial that voices strong concerns about the soon-to-be-pending Senate antiregulatory package. As the editorial recognizes, and as CPR has pointed out in the past, this and other antiregulatory measures are not about “good government” or about improving the economy. Instead, they are really about ensuring that the rules are firmly rigged in favor of corporate interests and against the public. Under the Senate bill, the Times observes, “The winners would be big banks and big businesses. The losers would be ordinary Americans who would be deprived of timely and effective protection.”
In September, CPR Member Scholar Sid Shapiro testified at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing that examined many of the provisions that are now contained in the Senate antiregulatory package. There, he explained to the committee members that the new procedural hurdles that the bills would add to the already overly convoluted rulemaking process would do nothing to improve regulatory decision-making. Rather, they would provide corporate interests with new policy levers for delaying and weakening pending safeguards.
Shapiro cited the bill’s various “regulatory lookback” requirements as good illustrations of this point. He noted that agencies are already subject to numerous lookback requirements, and that adding more would be a duplicative waste of scarce agency resources. He also explained that agencies already conduct discretionary lookbacks—that is, lookbacks that are not compelled by any particular legal requirements—and that the Government Accountability Office has found that these discretionary lookbacks produce more useful results than the required ones. What’s more, the new lookback process would focus exclusively on weakening or repealing existing rules—not strengthening them where appropriate. This one-sided process flies in the face of actual experience with existing lookback procedures, which often find that regulations and regulatory programs need to be strengthened to fulfill the mandates of their authorizing statutes.
The New York Times raises these same objections with the Senate package’s new lookback requirements:
Another provision would establish a commission of political appointees to advise Congress on regulations that should be modified or repealed. That would undermine the authority of regulators because it would effectively create a political hit list. It’s important to review regulations that are on the books — and regulatory agencies routinely do so. Such reviews are aimed not only at relieving unnecessary burdens but also at strengthening regulations where necessary. Much of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, for example, is devised to create or improve rules authorized before the financial crisis but never properly developed or enforced. A regulatory review commission whose aim is to curtail or end regulation would be a step backward.
In a world where the political news is dominated by a reality TV star running for president (and receiving the endorsement of another reality TV star), it’s easy to lose sight of important but decidedly unsexy topics like congressional attacks on the regulatory system. I commend the New York Times for bring much-needed attention to this misguided Senate bill, and for clearly explaining the dangers it poses for our health, safety, environmental protection, and financial security.