Archive for the ‘Regulation’ Category

While many Americans are signing up for a gym membership or vowing to read for fun, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is at it again with a slew of resolutions for the new year that, while they may line the pockets of Big Business and the very rich, promise nothing but trouble for the rest of us and the planet we call home. Without further ado, our list of the Chamber’s new year’s resolutions for 2017:

1. Shed those last few pounds regulations

 Now that several Chamber alums are occupying key spots on the transition team, the Chamber has set its sights on kicking off the new year with a rollback of federal regulations. The Chamber will continue to flex its dark money-fueled muscle in the hard-fought battle to pass the Midnight Rules Relief Act (MRAA). The MRAA would allow Congress to revoke a plethora of public protections under the Congressional Review Act with just one vote. This would have severe consequences for our health, safety and economic security and the Chamber’s support of the MRAA demonstrates once again that it sides with big corporations’ bottom lines over people’s well being. Also making the top of the Chamber’s resolution list is the passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) which would add dozens of new requirements to the regulatory process and would allow non-expert judges to second-guess the decisions made by an agency’s technical experts, thereby giving industry additional opportunities to attack public protections. New year, same deceptively named legislation!

2. Get Outdoors While You Still Can

While we don’t know if 2017 will finally be the year the Chamber makes up its mind on the science of climate change, we do know that its list of resolutions includes killing the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Chamber is also advocating to undo the Clean Water Rule, designed to protect streams and wetlands, and by extension, our drinking water. And if that wasn’t enough, the Chamber is also fighting to reverse President Obama’s decision to close much of the Atlantic and Arctic basins to offshore drilling. If the Chamber gets its wish, the great outdoors may not be so great anymore.

3. Spend Less Money…On Workers

The Chamber has yet again resolved to stand up for the interests of very wealthy individuals at the expense of hardworking Americans. The Chamber will continue to oppose an increase in the minimum wage and implementation of the overtime rule that would make millions of middle income Americans eligible for overtime pay. The Chamber also intends to stiff hardworking Americans by asking for a repeal of several other Obama administration Executive Orders, including (but certainly not limited to!) the Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors EO, which provide workers at companies doing business with the federal government the opportunity to earn up to 7 days of paid sick leave per year. New year, but no new money in your paycheck!

4. Get Organized Unorganized

Just like some of us resolve every year to spend less money eating out or to stop smoking, the Chamber resolves every year to weaken unions and the protections they offer workers. In 2017, the Chamber has resolved to continue pushing laws weakening unions, seeking to build on “victories” in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. New year, same war against unions!

5. Party Like it’s 2007

Ain’t no party like a financial crisis party! In keeping with its role as a lobbyist for Wall Street, the Chamber will continue its fight to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act,  passed in the wake of the financial crisis as a way to prevent future financial crises. Dodd-Frank instituted a host of consumer protections as well as limits on reckless risk taking by banks. One important part of Dodd-Frank that the Chamber adamantly opposes is the Volcker Rule which prohibits big banks from using depositors’ funds for proprietary bets. The Chamber will also continue to oppose the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s efforts to combat unfair forced arbitration clauses and class action bans.  These “rip-off” clauses prevent consumers from having their day in court and offer big corporations another way to avoid accountability for corporate wrongdoing as the recent Wells Fargo scandal has shown. Another safeguard that the Chamber seeks to eliminate in 2017 is the fiduciary rule, which protects retirement savers from greedy financial advisors. New year, same defense of Wall Street greed!

So while many of us are wondering if we can really make it to the weekend without a drink or just how far into February our other resolutions will last, we should be more concerned that the Chamber is working to strip us of public protections, all while destroying the only planet we’ve got. Perhaps we should add a resolution to our list: oppose the U.S. Chamber’s harmful agenda.

If you’d like to learn more about the Chamber, you can always visit us on www.chamberofcommercewatch.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act) would require congressional approval of all major regulations issued by federal agencies before those regulations could go into effect. This bill represents one of the most radical threats in generations to our government’s ability to protect the public from harm.

The REINS Act will delay or shut down the implementation of critical new public health and safety safeguards, financial reforms and worker protections, thereby making industry even less accountable to the public. It will only benefit those corporations that wish to game the system and evade safety standards and do nothing to improve protections for the American public.

The REINS Act is redundant and needlessly time-consuming.

Agencies already undergo rigorous reviews of their proposed rules and solicit comments from the public, business interests, and other agencies. In addition, many rules are promulgated in response to congressional directive, such as the regulations required by recent product safety, health care, and financial services laws. And under the Congressional Review Act, Congress already has the authority to review and nullify a rule by passing a resolution of disapproval. The REINS Act would force Congress to refight its previous debates, wasting time and money and paralyzing the agencies and Congress itself.

The REINS Act endangers the public.

The REINS Act would require both houses of Congress to approve a major rule, with no alterations, within a 70-day window. If both chambers are unable to approve a major rule, it would not take effect and would be tabled until the next congressional session. In other words, by doing nothing, Congress would prevent existing laws from being effectively implemented. It would stop all major rules and delay vital public protections, such as those limiting the amount of lead in children’s products, preventing salmonella contamination in eggs, and increasing the safety of job sites where cranes or derricks are operated. These rules were promulgated to reduce injuries, illnesses, and fatalities caused by unsafe products or behavior. Allowing them to be held up or stopped by Congress would endanger the public.

The REINS Act threatens the separation of powers.

Congress already participates in the rulemaking process by writing and passing federal law that provides the blueprint for agency actions. Any agency error or misinterpretation is subject to judicial review. The REINS Act attempts to dramatically alter the separation of powers by allowing Congress to veto executive actions. Previous attempts to create a legislative veto have been overturned for violating the separation of powers. Although the REINS Act possibly skirts this issue by requiring the president’s signature before a rule is overturned, this legislation does not comply with the spirit of the checks and balances system laid out in the Constitution.

The REINS Act corrupts and politicizes the regulatory process.

The REINS Act would inappropriately – but deliberately – inject political considerations into a regulatory process that is supposed to be based on objective agency science and expertise. Federal agencies employ personnel with policy, scientific, and technical expertise to produce smart and sensible regulations. Allowing Congress to have the final say on regulations would give lobbyists, special interest groups, and those who provide legislators with campaign contributions even more influence in shaping a rule.

The REINS Act is unnecessary.

The regulatory process already allows ample opportunities for input, including the opportunity for Congress to vote to nullify a rule. Requiring Congress to affirmatively pass each rule before it can go into effect would taint the regulatory process with improper political considerations, endanger the public by delaying crucial safeguards, and would usurp powers reserved to the executive and judicial branches to implement and interpret the law. The REINS Act is a deeply flawed bill that would handicap the federal agencies and add a considerable workload to a legislative body which already struggles with time constraints. Congress should be searching for ways to make federal agencies run more smoothly, not throwing up roadblocks to the regulatory process.

Every recent presidential transition has set a new precedent in terms of transparency of operations.

Until now.

The lack of details coming out of the Trump Tower and other hubs of the transition has led to an ever-growing list of unanswered questions about how the transition team is conducting its business. These are questions that President-elect Donald Trump should answer for the public — not only to make good on his pledge to “drain the swamp,” but also to show good faith to the taxpayers, who are footing the bulk of the bills for the transition.

A central question is this: What is the transition team’s ethics code?

For a long time, the transition team’s leaders deflected questions about whether it had an ethics code at all. A week after the election, when Vice President-elect Mike Pence took over the transition, newspapers reported that an ethics code was newly finalized and they published the purported document.

Later the same day, Politico reported on the existence of a brand new ethics code that apparently superseded the earlier one, although the paper did not publish the code itself.

A key component of an ethics code is how it treats lobbyists, whom Trump singled out in his swamp-draining pledge. The two ethics codes reported on by the press conflict on whether recently active lobbyists may participate on the transition team simply by cutting their ties to current clients.

It is also unclear how the policies handle quasi-lobbyists who do not officially register as lobbyists. Candidate Trump pledged to “close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisers when we all know they are lobbyists.”

How is he managing that promise for the transition?

For its part, the transition team has not officially announced anything on its ethics policies. The Obama-Biden transition team, in contrast, published its ethics code within a week of the general election. A strong ethics code is foundational to any commitment to run a clean, unconflicted government. The public deserves to know the steps the Trump team has taken to ensure that the architects of the next administration aren’t designing it for their own benefit.

Trump also owes it to the public to announce these steps officially to demonstrate that he is accepting accountability for them.

The transition also has neglected to share the specific details of the nondisclosure agreement (NDA) team members reportedly have been required to sign. The mere existence of a nondisclosure agreements raises all sorts of troubling questions.

For instance, does the agreement preclude rank-and-file members of the team from revealing details of the agreement?

Do the terms of the agreement violate whistleblower protection laws?

Would the agreement be enforced in secret arbitration proceedings, as with agreements that Trump previously has required his employees to sign?

The public also deserves to know which outside experts and advocates team members have met with and what policy proposals outsiders have submitted. By this time in the Obama-Biden transition, the team was disclosing with whom it met and was posting policy documents submitted by outside groups on its website.

We have seen no indication that the Trump team intends to follow suit.

As Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Brandeis’s metaphor is particularly apt today, as the president-elect was elected on a promise to “drain the swamp.”

Even though it predates the inauguration, the transition process is one of the most influential periods in an entire presidential administration, as it sets the stage for staffing and policy. The transition is largely funded by us, the taxpayers, and so we should given an opportunity to monitor and evaluate its work.

This post originally appeared in The Hill.

Last week, Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch project began a series exposing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of the central actors pushing the modern day Republican Party’s extremist agenda. This week, we dive into the Chamber’s dark money spending during the 2016 election cycle. As discussed in last week’s blog, under Tom Donohue’s leadership, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gone from a rather staid business advocacy organization with ties to both political parties to one that has become rabidly partisan.

In the 2016 election cycle, however, the Chamber took partisanship to even greater heights. For the first time ever, 100% of the Chamber’s elections spending benefited Republicans. What’s more, the Chamber formed an explicit alliance with leading Republicans (enter Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina) whose goal was to “Save the Senate” for the GOP and prevent a Democratic takeover of the closely-divided body.  The Chamber was so determined to preserve a Republican majority in the Senate that it even spent big against Democrat Evan Bayh, a man it used to employ, and top Chamber officials often disparaged and mocked Bayh and other Democratic candidates on social media.

The Chamber, like other groups organized under section 501(c) of the tax code, is not legally required to disclose the sources of the money it independently spends on elections. It and other dark money groups can serve as conduits for anonymous donations from corporations and other wealthy special interests to flood elections, making it particularly dangerous to democracy. In a recently released report, “The Republican Party and the Chamber of Secrets,” Chamber Watch analyzed campaign spending data from the Center for Responsive Politics to get a fuller picture of the Chamber’s election spending.

The Chamber was the second largest non-disclosing outside spender in the 2016 cycle, after the National Rifle Association, and was the largest non-disclosing outside spender on congressional races. It spent nearly $30 million, all to benefit Republican candidates. [Table 1]

TABLE 1: SPENDING BY TOP 10 NON-DISCLOSING OUTSIDE GROUPS IN 2016 FEDERAL ELECTIONS
RANK GROUP TOTAL VIEW*
1 NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION $33,585,089 C
2 U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE $29,771,619 C
3 45 COMMITTEE $21,339,017 C
4 AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY $14,022,484 C
5 AMERICAN FUTURE FUND $12, 735,724 C
6 MAJORITY FORWARD $10,127,545 L
7 LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS $7, 292,098 L
8 AMERICAN ACTION NETWORK $5,559,198 C
9 ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE ACTION FUND $4,341,655 L
10 CLUB FOR GROWTH $4, 061, 723 C

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org)

*View: C = Conservative, L = Liberal, as determined by the Center for Responsive Politics

The Chamber spent most heavily on races for the U.S. Senate, spending a total of $25.8 million in 10 Senate races. Nine Senate races saw at least $25 million in outside spending – political expenditures from outside groups that are independent of a candidates’ committee. The Chamber reported expenditures in eight of these nine races and in eight of the 10 congressional races that drew the most outside spending in 2016. [Table 2]

TABLE 2: TOP 10 OUTSIDE SPENDING CONGRESSIONAL RACES IN 2016 ELECTION

RACE (DISTRICT FOR HOUSE CONTESTS)

CANDIDATES

U.S. CHAMBER SPENDING

TOTAL

OUTSIDE SPENDING

1 PA. SENATE KATIE MCGINTY (D) V. PAT TOOMEY (R) $6,106,150 $117,863,823
2 N.H. SENATE MAGGIE HASSAN (D) V. KELLY AYOTTE (R) $3,010,600 $90,754,788
3 NEV. SENATE CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D) V. JOE HECK (R) $4,215,961 $90,654, 145
4 N.C. SENATE DEBORAH ROSS (D) V. RICHARD BURR (R) $0 $59,088,388
5 OHIO SENATE TED STRICKLAND (D) V. ROB PORTMAN (R) $4,606,324 $51,567,703
6 FLA. SENATE PATRICK MURPHY (D) V. MARCO RUBIO (R) $1,500,150 $49,646,281
7 IND. SENATE EVAN BAYH (D) V. TODD YOUNG (R) $2,749,450 $45,681, 549
8 MO. SENATE JASON KANDER (D) V. ROY BLUNT (R) $1,000,150 $44,742,539
9 WIS. SENATE RUSS FEINGOLD (D) V. RON JOHNSON (R) $1,350,450 $26,448,808
10 NEV. HOUSE 3 DANNY TARKANIAN (D) V. JACKY ROSEN (R) $0 $16,886,961

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org

Both the Pennsylvania race, and the New Hampshire Senate contest broke spending records, with campaigns and outside groups spending $164 million and $121 million, respectively. In the Pennsylvania race between Pat Toomey (R) and Katie McGinty (D), the Chamber was the largest non-disclosing outside spender out of 27 groups, spending more than $6.1 million. In the New Hampshire race between Maggie Hassan (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R) the Chamber was also the largest non-disclosing spender out of 14 groups, spending more than $3 million, while the next largest non-discloser spent just over $700,000. The Nevada Senate race saw the third highest level of outside spending, with the Chamber spending more than $4.2 million, more than any of the other 26 dark money spenders. Out of the top ten races with the most outside spending, the Chamber was the highest spender among non-disclosing groups in five races. [Table 3]

TABLE 3: CHAMBER SPENDING IN 2016 CONGRESSIONAL CONTESTS

RACE (DISTRICT FOR HOUSE CONTESTS)

CANDIDATES

U.S. CHAMBER SPENDING

U.S. CHAMBER RANKING AMONG NONDISCLOSING GROUPS

OUTCOME FOR CHAMBER-BACKED CANDIDATE

1 PA. SENATE KATIE MCGINTY (D) V. PAT TOOMEY (R) $6,106,150 1 OF 27 W
2 OHIO SENATE TED STRICKLAND (D) V. ROB PORTMAN (R) $4,606,324 1 OF 13 W
3 NEV. SENATE CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D) V. JOE HECK (R) $4,215,961 1 OF 27 L
4 N.H. SENATE MAGGIE HASSAN (D) V. KELLY AYOTTE (R) $3,010,600 1 OF 14 L
5 IND. SENATE EVAN BAYH (D) V. TODD YOUNG (R) $2,749,450 1 OF 8 W
6 ALA HOUSE 2* ROBY MARTHA (R) V. BECKY GERRITSON (R) $1,750,150 1 OF 2 W
7 FLA SENATE PATRICK MURPHY (D) V. MARCO RUBIO (R) $1,500,150 4 OF 18 W
8 WIS. SENATE RUSS FEINGOLD (D) V. RON JOHNSON (R) $1,350,450 2 OF 15 W
9 ARIZ. SENATE ANN KIRKPATRICK (D) V. JOHN MCCAIN (R) $1,250,150 1 OF 6 W
10 MO. SENATE JASON KANDER (D) V. ROY BLUNT (R) $1,000,150 4 OF 15 W
11 GA. HOUSE 3* MIKE CRANE (R) V. DREW FERGUSON (R) $650,150 1 OF 1 W
12 ILL. SENATE TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D) V. MARK KIRK (R) $550,150 2 OF 4 L
13 KAN. HOUSE 01* TIM HUELSKAMP (R) V. ROGER MARSHALL (R) $401,907 1 OF 2 W
14 N.Y. HOUSE 11 RICHARD REICHARD (D) V. DAN DONOVAN (R) $129,427 1 OF 1 W
15 KY. HOUSE 01* JAMES COMER (R)  V. MICHAEL PAPE (R) V. JASON BATTS (R) $100,150 1 OF 2 W
16 ILL. HOUSE 18* DARIN LAHOOD (R) V. MIKE FLYNN (R) $100,150 1 OF 2 W
TOTAL $29,471,469

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org) *Primary Election

Of the ten marquee Senate races in 2016, the Chamber spent in 9 of them.  The Republican candidates it supported won 7 of those 9, guaranteeing that the Senate would in fact be “saved” for the GOP. While it’s of course impossible to say that the Chamber’s dark money deluge in these races accounted for the slew of GOP victories, it certainly may have helped tip the balance in the closer races.

The Chamber’s deluge of dark money in congressional races should alarm all those concerned about the health of our democracy. When the nation’s leading business group can form an explicit alliance with one of our two major parties and solicit unlimited donations from anonymous donors, individual voters and small businesses should be worried that their voices will be shut out.

The Chamber’s 2016 election spending makes it abundantly clear that rather than being a voice for American business, the Chamber has become a very loud, very powerful voice for the Republican Party.

Every year, Congress works to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual bill that sets the budget for the U.S. Department of Defense, among other provisions. The NDAA for Fiscal Year 2017 – currently awaiting President Obama’s signature – contained a grab bag of policy provisions affecting whistleblowers, open government policies, workers, and consumers.  ICYMI: We are recapping four important victories for health, safety, and democracy that were part of this year’s NDAA final legislation.

Whistleblower Protections

In 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office documented a stark reality for military whistleblowers who challenge the retaliation they face for bravely reporting waste, fraud, and abuse. These servicemembers endure lengthy delays in their cases and are rarely successful when they file retaliation complaints.

One of the most significant reforms contained in the final NDAA is a prohibition of retaliatory investigations against whistleblowers. This victory is important – prolonged investigations serving only to harass and intimidate individuals for exposing corruption have devastating effects for these whistleblowers and their families. By closing this loophole, lawmakers have greatly expanded existing protections for military whistleblowers.

Preserving the Freedom of Information Act

Due to pushback from open government advocates, lawmakers removed provisions from the NDAA that would have limited the applicability of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Not only were these new proposed exemptions unnecessary, but also they would have been contrary to the public interest by shielding from disclosure important information regarding the actions of the military. To limit the public’s access to this information in essence creates a carve-out for the Pentagon from FOIA’s broad right-to-know. As an open government watchdog organization, Public Citizen can attest to the importance of FOIA in holding government agencies accountable. We commend lawmakers for removing this dangerous provision during the conference process.

Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order

President Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order (EO) on July 31, 2014 to require companies bidding on federal contracts to disclose past labor law violations. The EO also includes a provision prohibits federal contractors from forcing their employees to arbitrate discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. In 2015, Public Citizen and our allies in the Fair Arbitration Now coalition submitted comments in support of the regulations implementing the EO, sending a strong message that access to the courts is a fundamental American right that should not be discarded in the fine print of contracts.

While the future of the EO unfortunately remains uncertain, it now faces one fewer obstacle.  During NDAA conference committee negotiations, lawmakers removed harmful provisions that would have exempted certain defense contractors from complying with the EO.

Consumer Protection

Finally, the NDAA includes language ensuring that military housing is as safe as possible for servicemembers and their families and free from known hazards.  Specifically, the NDAA includes provisions that mitigate the risk of death and catastrophic injury posed to military children caused by corded window coverings from military housing. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has documented the strangulation and asphyxiation hazard to children caused by window covering cords for decades. Moreover, as recognized by the provision’s sponsor, U.S. Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.), military families are at a unique disadvantage to mitigate this hidden health hazard due to frequent deployments, relocations, and temporary housing.

However, even as we celebrate these important victories achieved through the NDAA process, our work isn’t over yet. Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division will continue to hold lawmakers accountable for their work on health, safety and democracy when the 115th Congress convenes next month.  Tune in to Citizen Vox to stay informed about all of our work in the coming Congressional session.

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