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The Republican-Corporate Attack on Regulatory Protections Threatens Workers and the Public

March 2, 2011

The new Republican majority in Congress and its corporate allies have wasted no time in launching an all-out assault on regulations that protect workers and the public.  Workplace safety and health rules, environmental and consumer protections, health care regulations and financial safeguards are all targets.  Republicans are trying to cloak this attack as a jobs initiative, claiming that regulations are hampering investment and killing jobs.  But in truth this is simply a brazen effort to roll back 40 years of progress and strip away protections.  The real goal of congressional Republicans is to totally undermine the government’s role in protecting the public and stopping corporate abuses.

The assault on protections has been swift and massive. It targets not only individual regulations, but the entire regulatory process, and it has been launched on many fronts:

Republicans Have Invited Corporations to Identify and Target Rules

Rep. Darryl Issa, chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, wrote to more than 150 business groups, asking them to identify rules they thought were burdensome or unnecessary.  The chairman made no effort to get input from unions, public interest groups or others on the impact of rolling back or weakening regulations.  The thousands of pages submitted by business groups contained almost no factual information, just a diatribe against rules they oppose and would like to see repealed.  They’re only looking to profit at the expense of worker health and safety and common-sense safeguards for the public interest.

Congressional Oversight on Regulatory Agencies

The Republican House leadership has directed all major committees to conduct a review of all existing, pending and proposed regulations for their burdens on business.  The benefits of these protections—to the public, to workers, to consumers and to the environment—are not being considered.  Dozens of hearings have been scheduled to provide a forum for business groups to fulminate against regulations and regulatory agencies.

Budget Cuts and Prohibitions on Action

The Republican FY 2011 Continuing Resolution slashes funding for worker safety, labor rights and environmental protection, making it impossible for agencies to issue needed rules and enforce the law.  Republicans are using budget cuts and prohibitions on spending to thwart implementation of the health care reform law and the new financial services law.

Legislation to Block Future Regulations

Republicans have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate that would fundamentally change the entire regulatory process and insert Congress directly into the process of rulemaking.  The “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act” would require Congress to review and vote to approve all individual major rules before they could go into effect, setting up Congress as the gatekeeper on regulations.  Without congressional approval, rules would simply die.  Politics, not scientific judgment or expertise of agencies, would dictate all regulatory actions.  Corporate opposition and special-interest influence would likely swamp the public’s interest and block needed protections.

Conclusion

Republicans and their corporate allies are focused on trying to block new rules planned by the Obama administration.  In response, the administration has issued new orders and directives to the agencies to look more closely at the impacts of rules on jobs and small business as they move forward to develop new regulations. It is important that these analyses not needlessly delay issuance of worker protection rules.  And the administration needs to move forward with much-needed worker protections and not pull back in the face of Republican and business opposition.  We are concerned that the implementation of stronger rules to ensure the payment of prevailing wages for workers in the H2B guest worker program has been delayed. A measure to strengthen enforcement of OSHA’s workplace noise controls was withdrawn.  Another OSHA rule that would simply require employers to identify which injuries recorded on the workplace injury log are musculoskeletal disorders was pulled back to allow further input from small businesses, even though small employers are not even covered by the rule. 

President Obama has restated his commitment to pursuing needed worker protection regulations and has made clear that he will veto any budget bill that guts agency budgets. But in the face of business opposition to any new regulations, we must redouble our efforts to win new stronger worker protections and rights.

Most importantly, we must turn back the Republican-corporate attack on regulations which, if successful, would leave businesses unfettered and free to operate as they wish, with no restraints or oversight.  Workplaces would be more dangerous, the environment more polluted and the public unprotected from fraud or abuse.  We cannot let that happen.  Turning back the clock is not the path we should pursue.

Joining with our allies, we must mobilize to turn back this assault. We must start by educating union members and the public about these radical Republican proposals and expose the true Republican agenda of doing the bidding of their corporate supporters. We must counter their false claims and misrepresentations and show how their agenda will hurt workers, consumers, the environment and our country.

For decades, the labor movement has been a leader in efforts to seek and secure sound regulations that have made our workplaces safer, our environment cleaner and our economy stronger.  It’s our job and responsibility to make sure that progress continues, so the needs and interests of America’s workers and the public are met.

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