If you’re a progressive, you might feel tempted to pop the champagne corks after the spectacular collapse of the GOP’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last week making it seem as if President Trump and Republican Congress may not be ready for prime time governing.
With all of these stories dominating the news cycle, some might think that Trump administration and GOP Congress are simply not ready to govern. Hobbled by incompetence and internal squabbling, they seem to lurch from one fiasco to the next.
However, the daily headlines of scandals mask one area where Trump and the GOP Congress have been successful at advancing the Republican agenda: they have already succeeded in pursuing the most aggressive regulatory rollback since the Reagan administration.
The main driver of this deregulatory agenda is the big business behemoth that is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Sure, it may have been Steve Bannon who uttered the words, “deconstruct the administrative state,” but it is the Chamber along with its big business allies who behind this drive to gut critical public protections.
So forgive us for being Debbie Downers and for corking the champagne as we take a moment to bring you up to speed on what the GOP, Chamber, and Trump have succeeded in doing during the first two months of this administration.
The past two months have been marked by an aggressive use of the heretofore rarely used Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to strike down regulatory protections issued in the final months of a previous administration using expedited procedures. Hundreds of public protections are at risk through the CRA, 15 have been repealed by the House, 12 in the Senate, and already 7 have been signed by Trump.
In February, Trump signed three CRA resolutions, reversing Obama regulations banning Social Security recipients with a mental impairment from buying firearms, protecting streams from water pollution by coal mines, and requiring oil, gas, and mining companies to publish payments they make to foreign governments. The Chamber was a big booster of both of these giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.
Just this week, Trump signed four more CRA resolutions. Among them was the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” rule, which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor or workplace safety laws. The U.S. Chamber has been lobbying against this rule since its creation, in an effort to protect big federal contractors from being finally held accountable. Another of these was a Bureau of Land Management rule known as “Planning 2.0,” which gave the federal government a greater role in land use decisions. This rule was opposed by the energy industry, and therefore the Chamber strongly lobbied for its demise.
Unfortunately, the CRA isn’t the only tool in the Trump Administration’s toolbox. Trump has also issued several executive orders (EOs) undoing our public protections. He issued an EO mandating that two regulations are to be repealed for every new one that goes on the books. This week, he signed an EO aimed at undoing numerous climate initiatives put in place by the Obama administration. The EO includes telling the EPA and other agencies to rollback components of the Clean Power Plan, reconsider carbon standards for new coal plants, reassess methane emission regulations, as well as several other changes sought by the fossil fuel industry. And, earlier this month, Trump announced the EPA would review and likely weaken Obama’s fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks in the post-2022 period. While there may be obstacles to achieving all of this, it is still a huge step in the wrong direction if we want to have a serious chance at limiting the impacts of global warming. And, sadly, these deregulatory these moves were all sought by the Chamber, which is no stranger to battling Obama-era environmental policies. In the course of just 3 years, the Chamber opposed the EPA in court 26 times and they have lobbied on these issues for years.
Most recently, the U.S. House of Representatives did the bidding of corporate America by using the CRA to vote to repeal Broadband Privacy Protections, which prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from tracking the browsing habits of customers without their permission and place obligations on ISPs to keep their customers’ data secure, giving customers more control over their personal data and privacy. Earlier this month the Chamber sent a letter to the Science and Transportation Committee leadership urging members to vote in favor of this CRA stripping Americans of their internet privacy.
So there you have it. Trump and the GOP Congress are successfully dismantling many important public protections including those protecting clean water, clean air, worker health and safety, and internet privacy. And the Chamber has been behind most of these regulatory rollbacks we’ve seen in the past 60 days. While Steven Bannon may falsely claim that deconstructing the “administrative state” will benefit the people, the reality is that it is not the people that are behind this agenda, it is the Chamber and giant corporations that are pushing it. Empty populist rhetoric aside, the administration’s deregulatory zeal is proof positive of the overwhelming influence of its corporate masters.