The Corporate Congress took a break this week, but lawmakers are coming back on Monday. Here are the public interest attacks we know about so far:
• At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing dubbed “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System.” You would think that with the Department of Homeland Security’s funding on the verge of running out, the committee would have more pressing concerns. But this is the McConnell-Boehner Congress, which remains laser-focused on devising ways to help its corporate backers. Based on what we know of GOP lawmakers’ overall take on the regulatory system, expect proposals that would put us back in the 19th century, when we had no child labor laws, no workplace safety standards, no Clean Air Act, no Consumer Product Safety Commission and so forth.
In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives already has approved measures that would launch a broadside on the regulatory system. Since January, the House has approved:
– The Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 185), which essentially would rewrite dozens of laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act, by requiring federal agencies to put corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of American workers and families;
– The Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (UMITA) (H.R. 50), which would give corporations a secret heads-up about proposed rules while shutting out the public;
– And the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA) (H.R. 527), which would give corporate interests even greater advantages in the regulatory process than they already enjoy.
Soon to come is the REINS Act (H.R. 427/S. 226), which reared its ugly head in 2013. This measure would require all new economically significant regulations – in other words, the public protections that provide the most health and safety benefits – to be approved by Congress and signed by the president before they can take effect. This means that even a lone senator could kill any significant new rule simply by doing nothing.
• At 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 27, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice holds a hearing titled “The State of Class Action Ten Years After the Enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act.” At the time the measure was proposed, Public Citizen opposed it, providing detailed analysis, pointing out the corporate interests that were pushing it and noting that it would dramatically curtail the rights of consumers to pursue state-law class action claims by shifting most of them to federal courts, which in many instances are far less advantageous for consumers. In the years since, corporate interests have used the fine print of their contracts to further restrict consumers’ and employees’ access to justice by removing their right to a jury trial and prohibiting participation in class actions. Lawmakers should keep in mind that class actions are a critical tool to preserve people’s ability to seek redress for corporate wrongdoing, particularly for small-dollar claims.