Chamber of Commerce takes anti-regulatory crusade to Trump Tower
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The election of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE means that for the first time in 10 years, the Republican Party will control both the White House and Congress, giving conservatives the opportunity to enact long-held policy goals. While candidate Trump displayed almost zero interest in policy — his entire campaign essentially built on four word and a Twitter hashtag, #MAGA — President-elect Trump is now faced with the far more serious task of developing policies that far exceed Twitter's 140 character limit.

Sensing this weakness, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other elements of the corporatist wing of the GOP are rushing in to fill the policy void high in Trump Tower.

In mid-December, the Chamber put out two separate pieces outlining some of its policy priorities for the Trump administration and the incoming Congress. Chamber Senior Vice President for the Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs William Kovacs wrote an op-ed in The Hill urging the new Congress to pass the deceptively named Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA).

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If Kovacs is to be believed, the Chamber's primary interest in the RAA is that of a scholar of constitutional law, troubled by federal agencies' alleged usurping of congressional authority.

Chamber President Tom Donohue, as is his wont, offers a far less academic take on regulation. Donohue, in a blog post on the Chamber's website, states that "[t]he Chamber is already working with transition officials to identify priority areas where [regulatory] relief is most urgently needed."

He then goes on to identify the fiduciary rule, designed to protect retirement savers from unscrupulous financial advisers, and the clean water rule, designed to protect streams and wetlands, as two rules that the new administration should undo. He also touts the deceptively named (sense a pattern here?) Midnight Rules Relief Act (MRRA), which would allow Congress to wipe out public protections enacted in the final months of the Obama administration en masse under the Congressional Review Act.

The Chamber's promotion of legislation like the RAA and the MRRA almost always comes down to the same false claims: that the regulatory process is arbitrary and capricious and that regulations are being rushed through at the last minute.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Administrative Procedure Act provides for lengthy notice and comment periods as well as public hearings where interested parties may offer their points of view on a proposed rule. It is not uncommon for agencies to receive and review thousands of comments during the rule-making process. Furthermore, the federal rule-making process gives industry lobbyists multiple opportunities to influence the shape of rules.

What's more, a recent study of federal rule-making found that the rule-making process for economically significant rules (the ones the Chamber is complaining about) issued at the end of a presidential administration actually received more vetting and took longer (3.6 years) than for those issued earlier in an administration (2.8 years).

The real purpose of these regulatory "reform" bills is to gum up the rule-making process and make it almost impossible to issue new rules. The RAA would add 70 new requirements to the rule-making process, many of them duplicating existing procedural safeguards. It also would place added emphasis on the alleged costs of new rules to industry.

While cost-benefit analysis sounds like a good idea in theory, it is difficult to carry out in practice. Agencies must rely on industry estimates of costs, which industry habitually inflates. Don't believe it? Just look at the history of automobile emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. The auto industry repeatedly overestimated its costs and falsely claimed that the regulations in question would kill jobs and hurt the economy.

The problems with cost-benefit analysis don't end there, however. While it may be difficult to calculate the true costs of a rule, it can often be close to impossible to calculate the monetary value of its benefits.

How do you calculate the monetary value of cleaner air and its attendant impacts on public health?

How do you calculate the monetary value of reducing acid rain and the resulting recovery of entire ecosystems?

The answer is that you can't — so these benefits won't be counted.

The RAA doesn't just seek to impose an accountant's straitjacket on issues of multi-dimensional complexity; it also would allow non-expert judges to second-guess the decisions made by an agency's technical experts, adding yet another hurdle to the regulatory process and giving industry-funded groups like the Chamber another opportunity to take out safeguards that hold big business accountable.

Kovacs's disingenuous paean to constitutional law aside, the Chamber's real aim with bills such the RAA and the MRRA is to make it almost impossible for the federal government to protect the environment and public health and welfare through the regulatory process. The Chamber's intense opposition to regulation is made clear by its frequent court challenges to major rules protecting the environment and public welfare.

In just the last few years, the Chamber has sued to block the fiduciary rule, the clean water rule, the Clean Power Plan (limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants) and the overtime rule (providing millions of middle income workers with the right to be paid for overtime hours), among others.

Interestingly, the Chamber's anti-regulatory crusade hasn't been embraced by the entire business community.

Retail giant TJX has decided to go ahead and expand overtime pay despite the fact that a federal judge issued an injunction to prevent the overtime rule from going into effect. Wal-Mart also preemptively raised its junior managers' salaries in response to the overtime rule. And Bank of America has announced that it plans on complying with the fiduciary rule even if it is undone by the new administration and Congress.

What's going on here? Some companies are realizing that being responsible — paying your employees for the hours they work, providing financial advice that is in your clients' best interest — is actually good for business.

If only those companies would talk to Tom Donohue and the Chamber. After all, they appear to be setting policy priorities for the new administration.

Dan Dudis is the director of Public Citizen's U.S. Chamber Watch program.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.