photo by geetarchurchy via flickr

The anti-regulatory charade in Congress officially has begun.

Last week, a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing provocatively entitled “The Obama Administration’s Regulatory War on Jobs, the Economy, and America’s Global Competitiveness.”

If it’s not exceedingly clear, House Republicans have picked up where they left off last year, scapegoating our government’s duty to protect the public’s health and safety as the source of our country’s economic troubles, while obscuring the fact that it was a lack of government oversight, based on a faith in Wall Street’s ability to “regulate itself,” that brought on the Great Recession.

Fortunately, Public Citizen’s president Robert Weissman testified  (watch video here) at the hearing to inject some much-needed balance into the discussion. Weissman reminded lawmakers that common-sense regulatory standards provide enormous benefits to the public that far outweigh their costs:

Over the last century, and through the Obama administration, regulations have made our food supply safer; saved hundreds of thousands of lives by reducing smoking rates; improved air quality, saving hundreds of thousands of lives; protected children’s brain development by phasing out leaded gasoline; saved consumers billions by facilitating price-lowering generic competition for pharmaceuticals; reduced toxic emissions into the air and water; empowered disabled persons by giving them improved access to public facilities and workplace opportunities; guaranteed a minimum wage, ended child labor and established limits on the length of the work week; saved the lives of thousands of workers every year; protected the elderly and vulnerable consumers from a wide array of unfair and deceptive advertising techniques; ensured financial system stability (at least when appropriate rules were in place and enforced); made toys safer; saved tens of thousands of lives by making our cars safer; and much more.

The benefits of rules adopted during the Obama administration, as with rules adopted during the Bush administration, vastly exceed the costs, even when measured according to corporate-friendly criteria.

Despite Weissman’s compelling testimony, the same House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday on the REINS Act, a radical piece of anti-regulatory legislation resurrected from the previous Congress. The most important feature of this bill is that it would allow either chamber of Congress to completely block any new major public health and safety regulations.

Lawmakers who can’t get enough of the dysfunction and obstructionism that currently plagues our political process love the REINS Act. But for those of us who want to see real solutions to pressing problems such as climate change, Wall Street recklessness, and tainted food, it will be crucial that we make sure the REINS Act becomes nothing more than the charade that it is.

Amit Narang is the regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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