How Congress Intends to Rollback Protections for American Workers

By Amelia Collins, Policy Analyst, NCLR

Photo: Roman Boed

Starting this week, the 115th Congress began work dismantling public protections for American workers, consumers, and families. NCLR has a history of being active in the regulatory process with significant success. This includes a final overtime rule that will benefit two million Latino workers, and a rule ensuring that retirement advisors make decisions in their client’s best interest. These rules will help millions of Latinos and other workers get more for their hard work.

So why would Congress want to eliminate these and other crucial protections? Well, some say that regulations cost the economy jobs and stymie growth. However, recent economic trends suggest otherwise:

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  • The economy is on a record of 75 consecutive months of job growth.
  • Unemployment is down to 4.7% from a pre-recession peak of 10%, and wages are rising.
  • Median household income increased in 2015 and poverty rates fell, with the Latino poverty rate being the lowest since 2006.

How does Congress intend to roll back regulatory protections that have come up alongside a growing economy? They will do so by voting on resolutions under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress 60 days to do away with any rules finalized by the Obama administration after June 13, 2016. If these resolutions pass both chambers and are signed by the president, they would not only gut current protections, but would prevent agencies from issuing similar rules indefinitely, allowed only with explicit congressional authorization. Further, the House passed a bill, the Midnight Rules Relief Act, to allow Congress to bundle a bunch of these resolutions together, limiting debate and hastening votes.

Hundreds of rules and regulations are under threat, including:

  • Updates to Head Start performance standards, which benefit thousands of Latino kids, as one-in-three children enrolled in Head Start are Hispanic.
  • A fair pay and workplace protection rule to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and promote quality jobs for women.
  • A nursing home rule banning forced arbitration in contracts to improve care for Americans in long-term care facilities.
  • Nutrition standards that ensure all students have free, clean water to drink, and that all schools implement science-based nutrition standards for any food sold on school campuses.
  • Non-discrimination rules for federally funded health programs and homeless shelters.
  • Debt relief for students defrauded by their schools and a ban on rip-off clauses buried in contracts with for-profit schools.

Perhaps most alarming, the law could be used to undermine consumer protection efforts of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), including rules protecting consumers from predatory payday loans and harmful debt collection practices. The CFPB is solely dedicated to protecting consumers, and in its short five-year history it has returned $11.7 billion in relief to more than 27 million consumers.

Not only is Congress attempting to get rid of these important regulations, they also hope to further diminish the power of agencies to make rules. The REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017) passed the House and is also awaiting action in the Senate. This bill would require Congressional approval of any major rule issued by an agency. This would slow down the already complicated and lengthy rule-making process for agencies and would place important rules in the political crosshairs of Congress.

Protections put in place by the Obama administration serve to protect everyday Americans in education, health care, the workplace, and the consumer market. The Trump administration and the 115th Congress should make good on their promises to stand up for everyday Americans by refusing to undermine these crucial protections.

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