The Corporate Congress is back in town, and next week, lawmakers will step up their attacks on public safeguards and make another run at limiting Americans’ access to the courts. They are among the issues on Public Citizen’s radar:
– At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on a raft of bills that would dramatically curtail the ability of federal agencies to protect our air, water, workplaces, financial system and more. The bills include: 1) The Regulatory Improvement Act (S. 708); 2) The Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act (S. 1607); 3) The Principled Rulemaking Act (S. 1817); 4) The Smarter Regulations Through Advance Planning and Review Act (S. 1818); 5) The Early Participation in Regulations Act (S. 1820); and 6) The All Economic Regulations are Transparent Act (H.R. 1759).
Here’s a taste of how damaging these bills are. The Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act would deny agencies such as the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission their independence, which now insulates them from the distorting influence of political pressure. The Regulatory Improvement Act would establish a commission to modify, consolidate and repeal existing regulations to reduce costs for business while ignoring the benefits these safeguards provide. The Early Participation in Regulations Act would require agencies to issue advance notices of their rules – a redundant and often unnecessary step that would prevent agencies from responding swiftly to urgent public health and safety threats. Go to SensibleSafeguards.org for more details.
– We also hear that the full U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development (RAPID) Act next week. This dangerous attack on safeguards would make it easier for corporations to get permits without addressing health, safety and environmental concerns.
– The House likely will vote on the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which would do the very opposite of its title. In fact, the measure could dissuade workers and consumers from seeking compensation for harm caused by corporate wrongdoing. It would increase abusive litigation by corporate wrongdoers and obstruct Americans’ access to justice especially in critical cases, such as those alleging civil rights violations.
– Finally, we continue to keep an eye on activity related to inappropriate and ideological policy riders attached to funding bills. This week, a coalition of 178 groups – representing tens of millions of Americans – urged President Barack Obama and all 535 members of Congress to oppose any federal appropriations bill that contains such policy riders.
With 16 months left in his term, President Barack Obama has the opportunity to fill a number of senior positions in agencies that oversee Wall Street. At both the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, there is one open Republican slot, and one open Democrat slot – a total of four open seats. Each of these agencies have five commissioners. At the Federal Reserve Board, there are two open positions to serve among the seven governors. The regulatory agencies prohibit all commissioners coming from the same party.
The President can go one of two directions. First, he could find confirmable nominees. That’s inside-the-Beltway jargon for individuals who can win a Senate majority vote. In this Republican-controlled chamber, that means avowed conservative Republicans paired with low profile, moderate Democrats.
Or second, the president could name excellent nominees.
If the president names excellent nominees, they are unlikely to win a confirmation hearing, let alone a vote.
Yet if he takes the other path, naming confirmable nominees may not actually lead to Senate action either. For example, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has chosen to sit on the two nominations for the Federal Reserve.
Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program
Note: Today, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee approved a bill to lift the country’s 40-year-old crude oil export ban. Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, has testified (PDF) before the House Small Business Committee on why lifting the ban would be harmful.
Today’s vote reflects the oil industry’s sophisticated and well-funded campaign to overturn 40 years of energy policy so companies can enjoy increased profits from exported oil at the expense of higher prices for American consumers.
The oil industry has led an expensive media and lobbying campaign to persuade lawmakers to repeal the limit on exporting U.S.-produced crude. Their reason for seeking the law’s repeal is simple: The ban confines oil producers’ ability to sell their product for higher prices to foreign markets.
The industry has claimed that repealing the ban is necessary because oil market dynamics have changed since the law was adopted; that allowing exports would lower gasoline prices for Americans; and that exports could provide geopolitical benefits for American national security and our economy. In fact, none of these things would happen if oil exports were permitted.
Instead, lifting the export ban would erode domestic surplus stockpiles and allow domestic oil producers to sell oil oversees for higher prices than what they charge in the U.S. This would result in higher gasoline prices for U.S. motorists and small businesses. Furthermore, ending the oil export ban would do little to advance perceived U.S. geopolitical interests regarding Russia, China and elements of the Middle East without simultaneously impacting energy supplies and prices in the U.S. market.
When this bill comes up for a full House vote, we urge representatives not to fall for the industry’s misinformation campaign and to protect consumers by upholding the oil export ban.
Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Note: On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo containing new rules designed to hold corporate executives accountable for wrongdoing by their companies.
It would have been nice if the Department of Justice had evinced any interest in prosecuting corporate executive wrongdoers after the 2008 financial crash and ensuing Great Recession (and even better if the agency had prosecuted wrongdoing before it led to the crash).
The Great Recession threw millions out of work and millions of families out of their homes. It cost the economy $13 trillion in lost output and destroyed $9 trillion in home equity, according to the Government Accountability Office. The perpetrators got off scot-free, at least when it comes to criminal liability – not because the law didn’t allow for criminal prosecution, but because the DOJ, shamefully and inexcusably, chose not to act, against either corporations or executives.
The new DOJ guidelines on individual accountability for corporate wrongdoing express principles and stipulate practices that should have guided DOJ all along. We’ll have to wait and see whether this memo will make any difference in DOJ’s actual willingness to prosecute corporate criminals.
For effective deterrence and accountability, it is vital that the department prosecute both corporations and responsible individuals. The new memo must not become a vehicle by which companies can offer up lower-level managers and ensure an escape from criminal liability for top executives and the companies themselves.
The memo amounts to a striking admission that the DOJ’s policy on Wall Street corporate crime has been completely ineffective. The real test going forward will be if the agency can put this policy into action and enforce it aggressively.