As I sit down to write this post, the congressional job approval rating is hovering around 12 percent. It has been for the past three months.
With the failure of the "super committee" -- the bipartisan group of senators and House reps tasked with trimming $1.2 trillion from the federal budget -- the legislative branch's inability to address the nation's problems has gone from alarming to negligent.
So it is with genuine bewilderment that I witness attempts in Congress to bind the rest of our government in red tape, in what appear to be efforts to shut down independent agencies and block the enforcement of consumer protections. Two pieces of legislation, the Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 3010/S. 1606) and the REINS Act (H.R. 10), set up additional procedural hurdles for federal agencies that protect consumers from corporate abuses -- and that are supposed to prevent disasters like the BP oil spill and the mortgage crisis.
The Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) covers every rule and policy statement proposed by any executive or independent regulatory agency, adding 60 new procedural requirements and tacking on two additional years to rulemaking processes. According to the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, which just released a study of this bill, the RAA would "grind to a halt the rulemaking process at the core of implementing the nation's public health, workplace safety and environmental standards."
Meanwhile, the REINS Act would require congressional approval for all major regulations issued by consumer protection agencies before those regulations could go into effect. If Congress did not approve a given regulation within the mandated 70-day timeframe, that regulation would be tabled until the following session of Congress.
While the RAA and the REINS Act cover all federal regulatory agencies, this assault on consumer protections has also produced more targeted legislation aimed at specific agencies. The FCC Reform Act (H.R. 3309) is the latest example. The bill would severely limit the Commission's authority to review the supposed benefits of mergers and other corporate transactions, and would give industry lobbyists new ways to drown out the voices of everyday citizens.
The authors of these bills contemplate "regulatory reform" and seek to change the way federal agencies operate. This would be a noble goal, but the RAA, the REINS Act and the FCC Reform Act are all more focused on protecting giant corporations from oversight than on protecting consumers.
Free Press agrees that the FCC in particular is in dire need of reform. However, agency reforms should insulate federal agencies from the industries they are charged with overseeing, not make them more susceptible to capture, corruption and capitulation.
With a 12 percent job approval rating, one thing is clear: The American people believe one federal entity whose processes are in desperate need of "reform" is Congress itself.