Republican lawmakers in Congress this week have opened an unprecedented offensive against almost every type of government regulation. The regulations they are going after are designed to protect workers' rights, the environment, medical malpractice victims, safety at work places, food sold to the public and a host of other things.
The Republican-run House launched its drive today with a bill that would stop the National Labor Relations Board from pursuing action against Boeing. The NLRB filed a complaint against Boeing in April, asserting that the company had built an assembly line in South Carolina to retaliate against unionized workers for exercising their federally protected rights, including forming a union or going on strike.
The GOP bill, called "The Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act," would prohibit the NLRB from "ordering any employer to close, relocate or transfer employment under any circumstances."
The GOP measure, unions note, would undo established U.S. labor law. The National Labor Relations Act bars employers from taking any actions, including transferring an operation, in retaliation against workers for exercising their federally protected rights, including forming a union or going on strike.
Then, beginning next week, the House is scheduled to hold votes every few days, throughout the fall, with the aim of delaying a host of regulations that protect the environment. Among the regulations Republicans hope to delay are ones that put in tougher anti-pollution requirements for power plants and rules that impose new curbs on farm pollution.
Earlier this week, a group of 14 Republican senators, led by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, introduced legislation they call the "Regulatory Time-Out Act." The unprecedented bill would put a one-year freeze on any new regulations that would cost businesses, collectively, over $100 million. Observers note that the argument can be made by businesses that almost any regulation will cost U.S. business, as an aggregate, this amount of money.
While the proposed bill is expected to generate opposition in the Democratic-run Senate, environmentalists and unions worry that the anti-regulatory climate Republicans are creating is already having a negative effect.
They point to the Environmental Protection Agency's cancellation of plans this month to strengthen rules on ozone pollution and President Obama's promises last week of additional measures to rid the government of "regulatory underbush."
Although the fight against regulations is spearheaded by the GOP, Democrats facing tough re-election battles are worried and feel they have to join in. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., for example, has said, "Government needs to be mindful that businesses are struggling. With these forces against them, only the most critical regulations should be pursued. Now is not the time for unnecessary regulations that have the potential to further depress our economy."
Next week the GOP will go after two EPA rules: a rule called maximum available control technology, which reduces mercury from plant emissions; and the "cross state rule," which requires 27 states to remove additional sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants from the air.
The week after that the GOP plans to vote down the EPA's attempt to regulate coal ash and other wastes from coal burning.
The EPA, the labor movement and health care activists say the Republican tactic of focusing only on the "cost" of a regulation fails to factor in the benefits of regulations. The mercury and "cross state" rules alone, according to EPA figures, could prevent as many as 25,300 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of lost workdays annually.
When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., set up the schedule for his attacks on regulations, he called them "job desroying,"
The EPA rejects that characterization and estimates that the mercury rule alone would create 40,000 jobs, 31,000 in construction and 9,000 in the electric utility sector.