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New House Leadership Puts Special Interests First

Feb. 9, 1999

New House Leadership Puts Special Interests First

“Regulatory Rollback” First Order of Business for Floor Feb. 10th

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In stark contrast to their rhetorical commitment to “put the people’s business first” by dealing with Social Security, education, HMO reform and other issues at the top of the American public’s priority list, the new leaders of the House of Representatives have made a pro-corporate, anti-consumer “blast from the past” their first order of business in 1999, Public Citizen said today.

?”Speaker Hastert apparently is eager to reward corporate special interests for their campaign contributions,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The first major piece of legislation in this Congress is a special deal for business that undercuts consumers, public health and safety, and the environment. Having paid the piper, Big Business is now calling the tune by claiming first place on the legislative agenda.”

Corporations belonging to Alliance USA, a coalition that pushed the roll back of regulatory protections in the 105th Congress, gave $45.7 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress and more than $8.8 million in unregulated soft money to the political parties during the two years leading up to the 1998 elections.

Scheduled for House floor action Wednesday, February 10th, are two retreads from the 1994 Contract with America’s campaign against government safeguards:

H.R. 350 creates a procedural roadblock to throw in the path of legislative proposals designed to strengthen public health, safety and environmental protections. The “point of order” it allows against private sector mandates costing more than $100 million annually also could be used to derail a minimum wage increase or tough managed care reforms. H.R. 350 would let members of Congress hide behind an undemocratic procedural motion instead of voting up or down, on their merits, on measures of critical significance to the American people.

H.R. 391 lets first-time violators of any record-keeping or reporting requirement automatically off with no penalty — an invitation to scofflaw companies to ignore paperwork that is vital to pollution control, food safety, nursing home fraud and abuse and other vital public protections. H.R. 391 is ostensibly just for “small businesses,” but it covers firms with up to 500 employees, and in some cases, up to 1500. It ostensibly exempts violations that result in actual, serious harm to the public, but its exemption process is completely unworkable. Its fundamental flaw: Ignoring the fact that the purpose of accurate, complete reporting and record-keeping is to prevent harm before it occurs.

“Speaker Hastert is starting out with an agenda that is as out of touch with the priorities of the American people as Speaker Gingrich’s,” Claybrook said. “Poll after poll shows that Americans want the government to take strong action to make our drinking water and air quality healthier, to ensure the safety of our nation’s food supply and to protect nursing home residents from abuse and U.S. taxpayers from Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

“Apparently the Hastert team is afraid to risk rising to the challenge of dealing with Social Security, HMO reform and education. But how much longer do they think they can get away with taking care of business for their corporate special-interest backers instead of the people’s business?”