This week’s Hill briefing on preserving the nation’s public protections by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards was a call to Congress to think seriously about the consequences of enacting “regulatory reform” legislation. The briefing came at a crucial time as a new legislative proposal, the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011” was recently introduced with bi-partisan support, making it the most plausible threat to our country’s system of public safeguards.
Sally Katzen, a renowned regulatory policy expert and former top regulatory official in the Clinton Administration, spelled out in dramatic detail how such legislation would essentially shut down our government’s ability to assure the public’s health and safety. She said that if one of her students at the New York University School of Law had given her this legislation as a way to improve the regulatory process, she would’ve given that student an “F.”
She is exactly right: the Regulatory Accountability Act is based on the deeply flawed premise that our federal agencies need to be more accountable to public, and in particular, industry concerns. In fact, this legislation would make Big Business and corporations less accountable to the public by preventing agencies from effective oversight of industry with strong public protections.
Isaac Shapiro, director of Regulatory Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute, spoke about the entirely unsupported but often repeated claim that regulations kill jobs. He shared with the audience EPI’s research showing that so-called “regulatory uncertainty” is nothing more than a convenient excuse for critics of public safeguards to hide the true malaise in the economy right now: lack of consumer demand in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis (one of the most tragic examples of the consequences of deregulation).
Shapiro also reminded the audience that those who invoke small business concerns about regulation are being disingenuous, citing numerous small business surveys that identify the current depressed economy and lack of consumer demand as the top problem for small businesses rather than excessive regulations. Even Bruce Bartlett, the noted senior policy advisor for former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, acknowledged this very point the other day.
The self-proclaimed “conservative republican” on the panel, small business owner Howard Williams, did not mince words when speaking about the importance of strong chemical safety regulations in his construction business. He made the case that clear rules of the road would help his and other small businesses by assuring customers both here and abroad that they are purchasing products free of toxic chemicals. Regulations he said, were good for business.
Unfortunately, establishing strong industry standards to increase consumer confidence in the products they buy is still a work in progress, as evidenced by the briefing’s last speaker, Tressa Bennett. Tressa told her harrowing story of being pregnant with twins in 1999 when she was infected with Listeria from some canned meat she had eaten. She described her recovery and the many health problems her son had to overcome as a small child, including seizures, physical therapy, etc.
Tressa stressed the importance of a nation to have rules and regulations passed to protect its citizens. And then she closed her testimony by reading heartfelt letters written by her twins, Luke and Chloe, who are now 12. Luke wrote about why the government should be involved in food safety. Chloe wrote she was very lucky to be alive today and urged the government to make sure the country’s food is safe for everyone.