Two Pieces of Legislation Threaten Public Protections
The grand bargain of advanced capitalism is that businesses are encouraged to prosper in pursuit of profits while, at the same time, government, through safeguards and regulations, is empowered to protect people from the excesses of the market.
Many of the great public policy advances of the past century can be understood in these terms. Child labor laws, building codes, anti-trust laws, many public health measures, workplace safety and wage laws, labor rights, environmental and consumer protections, food and drug safety, and many others are properly understood as public actions that limit business behavior in order to strike a fairer balance between the needs of business and the needs of people and the environment. Business typically opposes reform; yet the public interest can ultimately prevail.
On display in the Congress this week are two challenges to the balanced approach to regulation that has served the country reasonably well for over sixty years. The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011, and the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2011, have been designed to make the procedural hurdles for regulation so high that it would be virtually impossible to enact meaningful safeguards in the future.
Since voters would punish conservatives if they tried to repeal the Clean Air Act or food and drug protection legislation, or abolish the Environmental Protection Agency or the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, their new strategy is to make it impossible for regulatory agencies to carry out their mandates in the future. Assessments of the full implications of the legislation can be found at the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards.