Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Flickr photo by watchingfrogsboilThe McConnell-Boehner Corporate Congress next week will go after an agency that has, in its four short years of existence, done great things for consumers: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is just one of several public interest attacks next week that are on Public Citizen’s radar screen:

•    The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution is scheduled to hold a hearing at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 23, about the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This is another opening for Wall Street’s backers in Congress to attack the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s structure and power. But they will be attacking an agency that, in just four years, has helped 17 million Americans obtain remedies for financial harm and has recovered $10.1 billion in consumer relief from companies that engaged in wrongdoing. If anything, the agency needs to be strengthened, not weakened.

•    The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are set to convene a conference committee on a customs and enforcement bill that could weaken a strong anti-trafficking provision in last month’s Fast Track bill. The backdrop: The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report, which is expected to be released next week, may include an “upgrade” of Malaysia’s Tier 3 Ranking. Particularly in the wake of the horrific revelations of mass graves of human trafficking victims in Malaysia, this raises serious concerns for anti-trafficking advocates in the U.S. and Malaysia, as well as members of Congress who included a provision in the Fast Track bill that would bar Malaysia and other Tier 3 countries with the worst human trafficking record from entering into Fast Track trade deals. Nineteen senators and more than 160 representatives sent bipartisan letters this week to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing concern over any manipulation of the TiP report to further the administration’s goals to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which includes Malaysia.

•    Before going into August recess – possibly even next week – the House will vote on the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (S. 226 and H.R. 427). This bad bill would require all new economically significant regulations – in other words, the big-ticket public protections that provide the most health, safety, environmental and economic benefits – to be approved by both chambers of Congress before taking effect. If both chambers were unable to approve a major rule within a 70-day window, the rule would not take effect and would be tabled until the next congressional session. In effect, the reigning dysfunction in Congress would endanger any important new regulation, no matter how uncontroversial it might be.

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fda approved smallNo one can dispute that multidrug-resistant “superbugs” are a key public health concern for the 21st century. Better, safe and effective cures are needed. But the 21st Century Cures Act, legislation that will be voted on this week in the House, is not the solution to this problem.

Over 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths. New antibiotics have been slow in coming: No antibiotic with a truly novel mechanism of action has been discovered since the late 1980s. Yet this drought is not the fault of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has long been under tremendous pressure to approve new antibiotics quickly. This pressure was increased even further by a 2012 law that accelerated review for qualifying antibiotics.

Thanks to the current review process for antibiotics, clinical development for these drugs is already quick by industry standards. A new antibiotic takes only seven years to get to market, compared with nine years for cancer drugs.

Quick approval is not without costs. Many of the antibiotics approved over the past decade have suffered from safety and effectiveness problems. For example, tigecycline (Tygacil), an antibiotic that received special accelerated FDA approval in 2005, was slapped with a black-box warning in 2013 stating that the drug increases the risk of death.

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by Nicole Arbabzadeh

A recent article by David Lazarus in the Los Angeles Times delivers a harrowing glimpse into the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (H.R. 1927) and its potentially devastating ramifications to the justice system should it pass in Congress. If class action lawsuits are already becoming endangered due to the systematic use of forced arbitration, H.R. 1927 would ultimately guarantee total extinction.

The disingenuously titled bill, endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), would effectively eradicate class action lawsuits due to its sweeping measures and preposterous restrictions. Franks has unabashedly lauded the measure as a means to “allow those with serious injuries to have their own day in court.”

The truth is radically different.

In reality, the bill prohibits individuals with serious injuries or lesser grievances from accessing the legal system at all. Under the current system, class actions may be brought if class members experience similar injuries or complaints. If this bill passes those types of class actions will move forward only if “each proposed class member suffered an injury of the same type and scope as the injury of the named class representative or representatives” (emphasis added) – a nearly impossible standard to meet — hence the extinction.

Under the “same type and scope” stipulation, the following claims would be precluded from joining a class action suit:

• Any claim that is off by even a margin of $1 (all claims, for example, in a securities fraud case, would have to exactly match that of the class representative).

• Any claim that does not involve the same injury to the same body part (all physical injuries, for example, in a cars’ faulty brakes case, would have to pertain to a broken leg, not a broken arm or other ailment pertaining to the leg).

With such arbitrary and absurd demands, even the most historically important class action lawsuits would have been prohibited from proceeding.

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An executive at a for-profit college charged by multiple government agencies for allegedly deceiving students and pushing them into high-cost student loans recently complained that the school hasn’t had its “day in court.”

Cue the irony, because this for-profit college, ITT Technical Institute, has systematically denied its own students their right to a day in court.

Like other corporations seeking to evade accountability, ITT uses the fine print of its college enrollment forms to force its students into secret arbitration (and out of court) to resolve disputes. It also prohibits students from banding together in class actions against it.

Where is the students’ justice?

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate sponsor of the CLASS Act, called out ITT’s CEO for his glaring hypocrisy.

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by Luana Wang

Once again, a new kind of shadowy organization is threatening the integrity of our nation’s public and political engagement.

If you’re familiar with campaign finance law, you might be thinking of groups famous for spending on political campaigns, such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads organizations, which have been accused of violating federal election law. Or maybe you’re thinking of the Koch-backed political network of more than a dozen different registered groups. Maybe you’re thinking of Patriot Majority USA, which has poured millions into political advertisements on behalf of Democratic candidates. But those aren’t the groups Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is concerned about.

On April 15, 2015, Sen. Hatch and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, urging the IRS to “clarify” the status of workers’ centers, charitable organizations which provide training and resources to low-wage workers. Because they advocate for workers in disputes, Sen. Hatch and Rep. Ryan have asked the IRS to classify these organizations as labor unions instead of charities for tax purposes, even though they operate very differently from unions.

Meanwhile, two days earlier, Sen. Hatch wrote to Commissioner Koskinen asking that the IRS stop working to clarify the definition of political activity for nonprofits, including politically active nonprofits like Crossroads and the Koch-backed political network. Many of these groups are registered as “social welfare” organizations, which do not have to disclose their donors and yet are able to spend millions of dollars influencing political outcomes due in part to ambiguities and inconsistencies in the IRS rules.

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