Policy Watch: Congress blocks 14 Obama-era rules in an unprecedented blitz of CRA votes

Yesterday was the final day congressional Republicans could use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to block regulations issued in the final months of the Obama administration. The CRA is a controversial law that gives Congress the power to overturn rules put in place by the previous president for 60 legislative days after the president leaves office—and robs future administrations of the ability to implement new rules. Republicans have used this rather obscure law to block an unprecedented 14 regulations.

The rules blocked by congressional Republicans and President Trump provided important protections ensuring the health and safety of consumers, working people, and the general public. The five labor-related rules that were blocked would have made it harder for companies to get federal contracts if they violated labor laws, made it easier for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to track workplace injuries, helped people save for retirement, and made it easier for people to collect unemployment insurance.

The blocked Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule required companies applying for federal contracts to disclose violations of federal labor laws and executive orders addressing wage and hour, safety and health, collective bargaining, family medical leave, and civil rights protections. Currently, there is no effective system for distinguishing between law-abiding contractors and those that violate labor and employment laws. By blocking this rule, Republicans have ensured that businesses that violate basic labor and employment laws will continue to be rewarded with taxpayer dollars.

The blocked Workplace Injury and Illness recordkeeping rule clarified an employer’s obligation to maintain accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses. This information is critical in targeting injury prevention efforts and assessing their effectiveness. By blocking the rule, Republicans have made it impossible for OSHA, which is tasked with ensuring workers’ safety on the job, to require that employers keep accurate records that could be used to identify unsafe, potentially life-threatening working conditions. As a result, workers will go to work every day in less safe conditions.

Two blocked rules would have assisted state and local governments that develop individual retirement account (IRA) programs for private-sector workers. The rule simply clarified that these arrangements are not covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the federal law governing private-sector employer-sponsored plans. By blocking the rule, Republicans have blocked a path for retirement savings for the roughly 55 million private-sector wage and salary workers who do not have access to a retirement savings plan through their employers.

The blocked rule clarifying when jobless workers applying for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits may be subjected to drug testing would have ensured that jobless workers were not subjected to unnecessary hurdles when accessing UI benefits. Workers earn the right to UI through their participation in the workforce, and only get their earned benefits if they have lost their jobs. Letting states conduct arguably unconstitutional drug testing of UI applicants only benefits employers seeking to reduce their financial responsibility for UI benefits.

In addition to the worker protections rules blocked, Republicans blocked a rule designed to prevent some people with mental illness from purchasing firearms, a rule aimed at curbing pollution from coal mines, and a rule to give consumers more control over how internet providers share their personal browsing information. The ability of agencies to issue similar protections in the future is also impacted under the CRA, as the law blocks any agency from issuing a new rule in “substantially the same form” as the blocked rule. Before now, the CRA had been used to block a rule only once before, so the full effect of this regulatory block remains untested. While the window for the CRA has passed, the Perkins Project Policy Watch will continue to track the Trump administration and Congress and provide information on how their actions impact on our nation’s workers.