Regulatory Rollback

This week, the Trump circus with all its chaos and dysfunction blusters on.  The public mind has changed its focus from the Muslim ban executive order to the revelations about Michael Flynn that have now led to his dismissal resignation dismissal.  In ring three is the withdrawal of Andrew Puzder as nominee to be Secretary of Labor.

Meanwhile across town, out of the headlines, the Republican Congress is going about its work.  In the House, that means a hurry-up action on deregulation.

“Deregulation” can have a nice sound to it: when it is an effort to free us from harmful or needless restrictions imposed by bureaucrats.  But regulations can often protect us from fraud, corruption, poisoning or environmental pollution.  When those are the regulations being deregulated, then “deregulation” means harm to the health and welfare of ordinary people — and to the nation as a whole.

While the Senate has been occupied in recent weeks with confirmation hearings and votes on so-called President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, the House of Representatives has been quietly doing its part to roll back valuable regulations.  And these are being done on party-line votes, all the Republicans voting for “deregulation,” and all the Democrats voting against — that is to save the rule, standing up for ordinary citizens.

It’s not just up to the House of Representatives.  Sometimes both the House and Senate have to agree to end a regulation and the President has to sign the legislation as well.  Sometimes the President can “deregulate” by Executive Order.  Standing in the wings and orchestrating this wave of “deregulation” stand an army of lobbyists for wealthy interests, many of them connected to and paid for by the Koch Brothers.

On February 4, the New York Times published G.O.P. Hurries to Slash Oil and Gas Rules, Ending Industries’ 8-Year Wait.  It’s a story about a memo prepared by the Koch-funded “Freedom Partners”  that sets out an agenda for swift regulatory rollback, much of it to benefit oil and gas companies.  “The document carried the title “A Roadmap to Repeal,” a concise list of Obama administration environmental regulations that a Koch brothers-backed group was pressing President Trump and Congress to quickly reverse after Inauguration Day.”

The Times placed a copy of the memo on-line, with annotations showing what items on the list have been accomplished to date and by whose doing.

The early items accomplished include House votes using the Congressional Review Act which allows the two houses of Congress to reverse a new regulation by simple majority vote and the President’s approval so long as they act within 60 days of the publication of the rule.  Congress and the new administration are in a rush to un-do as many Obama-era regulations as they can.

Where did the Congressional Review Act come from?  It was passed by Congress as part of the Newt Gingrich Contract with America in 1996, and signed into law by President Clinton because it was part of an omnibus budget act.  In the Obama years, the Republican Congress failed to roll back some regulations because they could not find the votes to override an Obama veto.  Now Republicans control both houses of Congress and the Presidency, and they are following the Koch playbook.

I won’t try to enumerate all the “deregulation” moves already approved by the House under the Congressional Review Act or the “deregulation” moves encompassed in presidential Executive Orders, but we should note that these efforts are taking place across a range of fronts.  Some highlights:

Withdrawal of the Fiduciary Duty rule that protects ordinary people (retirees, for example) from predatory practices of investment advisers seeking to enrich themselves rather than benefitting their clients.

Rollback of a range of environmental protections such as a regulation protecting streams from harm by coal-mining activities.  Also beneficial to coal and oil companies: rollback of a rule requiring them to disclose payments (read bribes and kickbacks) to foreign governments.

Various regulations of the Department of Education.

Various regulations of several agencies bearing on permitting and regulation of domestic manufacturing.

Not that all regulations are a bad idea to the Trump/Republican government.  The Trump administration was quick to reimpose the Mexico City Policy that forbids any U.S. funds from going to organizations anywhere in the world that do anything to support abortion.  The policy has the perverse effect of increasing unwanted pregnancies and also increasing the number of abortions worldwide.

Certainly the circus of the Trump administration is tough to avoid (think Flynn, think Puzder, think Sean Spicer press conferences, think tweets).  But there is lasting damage being quietly done on the regulatory front.


Added 17.2.17: In the litany of regulatory rollbacks, I neglected to mention the internet/telecomm front where Ajit Pai, the newly appointed head of the Federal Communications Commission, has “fired up the weed whacker” against net neutrality and other consumer protections in on-line environments.




About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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