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May/June 2012
Public Citizen News
Big Business Invests in Blocking Public Protections
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Does it make sense in Wash-
ington, D.C., policy fights to ask
for more than you think you are
likely to win?
On this question — and not
many others — Pub-
lic Citizen agrees
with the U.S. Cham-
ber of Commerce:
The answer is yes.
Look at what
the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce, the
trade association for
Big Business, has
done in its effort to
block new health,
safety, environmen-
tal, financial and
other regulatory
Big Business
always complains
about the trumped-
up costs of “overregulation,”
but in the summer of 2010, the
Chamber launched a new initia-
tive alleging — against all evi-
dence and common sense — that
excessive regulation was respon-
sible for the nation’s job crisis.
In fact, it was regulatory failures
in the financial arena — too little
regulation of Wall Street and the
Big Banks, and too little enforce-
ment of the rules on the books
— that led to the Wall Street col-
lapse and the Great Recession.
In making a grand claim, and
by investing millions of dol-
lars in PR efforts and lobbying,
the Big Business lobby was able
to frame the regulatory policy
debate effectively. Congres-
sional Republicans relentlessly
pounded on the theme of “job-
killing” regulation. The Obama
administration positioned itself
as taking a reasonable and mod-
erate stance. It pointed out the
importance of public protections
but acknowledged its concern
about excessive regulation
inhibiting job growth. And thus
was achieved the first victory for
the Chamber of Commerce. For
to acknowledge a concern about
jobs, even against all the empiri-
cal evidence showing there to be
no legitimate issue, was to signal
policy capitulations to come.
The Big Business lobby has
pushed a series of very far-reach-
ing legislative proposals that
would effectively prohibit the
adoption of any new significant
regulatory protections. The Reg-
ulatory Accountabil-
ity Act would require
agencies to conduct
an endless series of
analyses before issu-
ing new rules (actu-
ally, it would impose
60 new procedural
and analytic require-
ments) and make it
easier for industry to
sue to block any new
rules. The REINS
(Regulations from
the Executive in
Need of Scrutiny) Act
would require con-
gressional approval
— with no amend-
ments, not even a comma — of
any significant rule, within 70
days. If either bill were adopted
into law, the practical impact
would be that regulators throw
up their hands and not bother to
propose new rules.
Even more extreme is the
Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act,
which would impose a mora-
torium on any new significant
health, safety, environmental or
other rules being adopted until
the unemployment rate drops to
6 percent. I testified in February
before the U.S. House of Repre-
sentatives’ Judiciary Committee
against this legislation, arguing
that the proposal “is the wrong
cure for the nation’s serious job
ailment. It wouldn’t remedy the
problem, could well make the
problem worse and would cause
devastating side effects.” The
regulatory freeze legislation’s
scope is so vast that it would
even interfere with the Fish and
Wildlife Service’s annual publi-
cation of the hunting season for
certain migratory birds.
The Obama administration, to
its credit, has issued veto threats
against the Regulatory Account-
ability Act and the REINS Act,
and it almost certainly will do
the same against the Regulatory
Freeze legislation.
Yet it has taken a number of
steps backward as it struggles
to pay obeisance to the untrue
claim that regulation hurts job
creation. A significant number
of very important rules are being
held up by White House agen-
cies, including, for example,
a rule to protect workers from
exposure to silica dust. As we
pointed out in an October 2011
report, in the eight years since
the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration began
work on the issue, a standard
would have prevented an esti-
mated 150 cases of lung cancer,
325 cases of fatal silicosis and
roughly 20,000 cases of non-
fatal silicosis.
The administration also has
issued a series of executive
orders that instruct agencies to
devote energy to finding rules to
strip off the books and to adopt
international standards (typi-
cally weaker than U.S. rules) in
place of our own national pro-
tections. One of those executive
orders has led the administration
to propose replacing the current
system of poultry plant safety
inspection with a privatized sys-
tem that would allow big chicken
producers to almost double line
speeds and police themselves.
And then, in an absolutely
disgraceful move in April, the
Obama administration withdrew
proposed rules that would have
restricted children from do-
ing the most dangerous forms
of farm work. Agriculture is
the last remaining industry in
which children as young as 12
are allowed to work, thanks to a
75-year-old loophole in the Fair
Labor Standards Act. The Obama
administration move came in
apparent response to a reporter’s
question, reflecting an agribusi-
ness talking point that the rule
would harm family farms. In
fact, family farms are exempted
from the rule.
At Public Citizen, we are not
just observers of the Big Busi-
ness attack on regulatory protec-
tions. We’re actively working to
defend existing rules and force
the issuance of important new
standards to make our country
stronger, safer, healthier, cleaner
and more secure. We co-chair
the Coalition for Sensible Safe-
guards, a broad alliance of public
interest groups. We’ve been
testifying, lobbying, issuing
reports, activating our members
and supporters, working with
the media, identifying victims of
corporate wrongdoing to serve
as spokespersons on the impor-
tance of regulatory protections,
and much more.
That’s why we jumped on the
announcement in early May
from JPMorgan Chase that it had
lost $2 billion on speculative
trades, recognizing it as a way
to help refashion the regulatory
debate. JPMorgan Chase CEO
James Dimon had been perhaps
the leading Wall Street voice
against new financial regula-
tions. We acted quickly to em-
phasize how the firm’s reckless
activity demonstrated, yet again,
the need for strong regulations
to curb corporate wrongdoing.
We focused particularly on an
important financial rule, the
Volcker Rule, which aims to stop
banks with federal deposit insur-
ance from reckless speculation.
But our main emphasis was
even more on the basic lessons
that fundamentally rebut the
Chamber of Commerce’s anti-
regulation philosophy. Corpora-
tions can’t be trusted to police
themselves, and public protec-
tions make our country and our
economy stronger and more
president’s view
Robert weissman
Public Citizen Promotes Health, Safety, Environmental, Financial and Other Safeguards
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