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  January 9, 2017

House Passes Koch Brothers-Backed Legislation that Weakens Gov't Regulatory Agencies


Donald Trump criticized Republican candidates for being the "puppets" of the Koch Brothers, but now he's set to do their bidding if the Senate passes the REIN Act, says DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn
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biography

Steve Horn is a journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin. His work has been featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout. He is also a Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog.


transcript

House Passes Koch Brothers-Backed Legislation that Weakens Gov't 
Regulatory AgenciesKIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Kim Brown in Baltimore.

On Thursday evening, the newly convened Republican-led Congress pushed through a regulatory reform introduced as S21(?) -- the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or REINS Act. It passed the House in a 237-187 vote, and the Koch brothers' front group FreedomWorks have praised the passage of the reform. The environmental group The National Resource Defense Council put out a statement condemning the move saying, "Industry would no longer have an incentive to work with regulatory agencies to craft sensible regulations and it allows Congress to overturn virtually any rule that they disliked."

And our next guest says that the REINS Act could weaken the ability of the federal regulatory agencies to do their jobs and that it its origin is in fact the Koch brothers' own organization the American Legislative Council.

Joining us from Indianapolis, Indiana, is Steve Horn. Steve is a research fellow for DeSmog Blog. He's also a Contributing Editor at CounterPunch magazine and a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in The Intercept, The Guardian, Vice News, Truthout and other publications. His recent article is "GOP Congress, Trump Already pushing Koch Industries' Bill to Hobble Regulatory Agencies". Steve, welcome back to The Real News.

STEVE HORN: Good to be back on. Thanks for having me.

KIM BROWN: So, Steve, help us unpack this if you could. So, what exactly is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or the REINS Act?

STEVE HORN: There are two answers to that question. The first one is: what's in the bill? Basically what the bill says and does, is it gives Congress 70 days to review any regulation put forward by a federal agency. If they do not move on that within 70 days, say, they just purposely stall, that regulation goes by the wayside. Then there's, they can't just do it vaguely, there has to be some sort of measurement.

So, it's called, anything that is a major rule, which is defined as anything that costs over $100 million for businesses, which isn't really very much because I think that's actually defined as businesses-at-large in the United States, that's obviously only a tiny fraction of the U.S. economy. But then even if it didn't reach that $100 million mark in costs, there are other caveats in there about other sorts of costs, whether it's on consumers and others. So, basically there are several carve-outs that make it pretty easy for that to kick in. So, if it meets those criteria, then they have 70 days to review whether or not they want the regulation to go forward and they can choose to kick it by the wayside. So, that's sort of the first answer.

The second answer is sort of who came up with this idea? And what my investigation shows, is that, basically, this has been an idea for the past over a half decade now of, you know, Koch Industries and Koch-funded think tanks and advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity. So, there's that part... that kind of opened up the whole bigger part of the story for me.

KIM BROWN: Well, Steve, let's take a look at a clip of Speaker Paul Ryan's Opening Day speech to the 115th Congress:

PAUL RYAN: This is the kind of thing that most of us only dreamed about. I know because I used to dream about this a lot. (laughs) The people have given us unified government and it wasn't because they were feeling generous. It was because they want results.

KIM BROWN: Well, this is not like Martin Luther King's "I have a dream", Steve. So, what is the dream that Paul Ryan is talking about? And what is the connection here to the FreedomWorks and Charles and David Koch?

STEVE HORN: Yeah. The speech that Paul Ryan gave basically pertained to the fact that, look, they have all three branches of government. They have the Supreme Court, most likely, going forward, because Trump was elected, a majority there. They have Congress in both chambers and they have Trump.

So, Trump has come out in support of this bill, actually -- that gets to the bigger story. You know, how are David and Charles Koch involved? Interestingly enough, the one time where Trump came out and talked about this particular piece of legislation was in a quote he gave to a guy by the name of Phil Kerpen. Phil Kerpen is a guy who, for several years, worked as the VP of Policy for Americans for Prosperity, which is a front group that was created by Koch Industries back in the late 2000s during the Obamacare debates. And Phil Kerpen, basically, now he doesn't work for Americans for Prosperity anymore, he works for a group as the President for American Commitment. But, on the record, he did say that he was in support of REIN so it raised the question of, why is he talking to Kerpen?

If you look back at Kerpen's record, he authored a book called "Democracy Derailed" about how Obama's regulations were, basically, usurping democracy in the United States. He created something called Obamachart.com which is a chart of all the regulations that were put forward by President Obama. And he said that the one solution to all of these regulations to stop this agenda would be the REINS Act -- you see the REINS Act at the bottom of that chart as the panacea for the problem.

And so, you look now, American Commitment, Phil Kerpen's organization has its own petition in support of this bill. It has garnered over 100,000 signatures. And you can look at their social media feed -- they're promoting this bill. As you mentioned, FreedomWorks is promoting it. Americans for Prosperity is promoting it. So, it's very clear this is something that is being pushed by Koch Industries through its front groups. But also, if you look at the lobbying records for this bill over the past half-decade in its various iterations -- it's always been called the REINS Act but it's never been passed -- Koch Industries has lobbied for it every single time that the bill has appeared at the federal level.

And one more interesting thing is in Wisconsin there's a version of this bill, also called the REINS Act. It was first introduced in 2016 and then was reintroduced, actually, already at the beginning of this year. If you look at the lobbying records in Wisconsin, two names that appear once again are Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity.

So, although Donald Trump, you know, he was outspoken about the fact that he would not hold a meeting with the Koch brothers during the campaign cycle -- he said that all the other Republicans were "puppets" for taking their money and doing their bidding. And now it looks very likely that if this thing does get through the Senate, that Donald Trump would be doing the bidding of the Koch brothers.

KIM BROWN: So, we saw earlier this week that there was a push-back on the Republican-dominated Congress trying to gut the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics. But REINS seems to have passed relatively quietly. So, do you expect more push-back on this? Or, does the Senate or President also have to pass it?

STEVE HORN: Yeah, the President still has to pass it and the Senate would have to pass it. I don't expect it to move until after Obama is out of office, obviously. Obama has already vetoed this type of bill before and come out against it through his Office of Management and Budget, which is the agency that has to determine whether or not it's a major rule, as I mentioned.

So, it's really unclear if it will for sure go through the Senate but it already has been introduced. I think it has 29 co-sponsors in the Senate. So, if it does move through the Senate, they do now have a President who is on the record supporting the bill. So, now I think it's just a question of if they'll start pushing this after he's inaugurated on January 20th.

KIM BROWN: So, give us an idea, Steve, of the type of regulations that could possibly be rolled back or stricken entirely should the REINS Act actually be signed into law by President-elect Trump and should it pass the Senate, as well?

STEVE HORN: So, this bill only covers any introduced regulation. It does not have retroactive type of grip. So, anything that was proposed in the past, the REINS Act does not cover. It just says that if a president's regulatory agencies do propose something then it has to go through this review.

So, most likely, it won't be anything that Trump does any way. He's not going to be proposing any sorts of environmental, worker safety -- any public-interest regulation, it's a good bet that Donald Trump won't be introducing it. But, you know, it could be something that a Democrat in the future introduces and then now it's a law but it could be the law of the land that has to go through this sort of review.

I think that the irony of it is that it already goes through a major review to begin with, through something called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA, which has been criticized actually for doing its "cost/benefit reviews" and shooting down a lot of good regulations on the grounds that it would be too costly, usually from a business perspective.

So, this kind of already exists, but this is just a way for Congress and, you know, bought-and-paid-for politicians in Congress to have another say over this and, basically, just stall it before it even gets to OIRA.

KIM BROWN: Okay, Steve, so let me try to play devil's advocate for a moment here because what the Koch brothers and people aligned with them, and conservatives in general, say that there are job-killing regulations and we need to eliminate these job-killing regulations and all the red tape on business in order to stimulate jobs and stimulate the economy. And it's hard for business to grow with all these regulations in place. So, what do you say to that?

STEVE HORN: Well, they make that argument, which I'll cover in a second. They're also making a more simple argument on this one -- that it's unconstitutional right now. That the Constitution is being violated by Congress not having a say over those regulations, which there might be some merit to it. I don't know if it's ever been tried in the court system. I could see that being something that they might try as a legal challenge in the Federal Court system going forward because it seems like it at least has some legitimacy. And I haven't really seen that argued before.

But, in terms of the jobs-killing regulations and the "faceless bureaucrats" that came up a lot yesterday on the House floor, you know, there are arguments to be made that these regulations don't really have a lot of teeth, anyway. They're not stopping industry. They have to be a little more careful on what they emit, for example, for air emissions or, you know, at the workplace, they prevent work hazards to workers. I don't think that there's been that much credible evidence that these are actually putting businesses out of work, except for when they say that it costs so much that they have to kill jobs. And I just don't think that that's the major cause of job loss per se, but that's the argument that that side makes. And I think that that's all based, sort of, on this premise that corporate profits reign supreme, that because they have to do this, they'll make a little bit less profit and that's bad for them.

And then that goes to what Trump says, "Well, we have to off-shore jobs. We have to... that's why new jobs are moving to Mexico, is because of these strangulating regulations." But, of course, the over-arching premise is that their CEOs are still being paid billions upon billions of dollars -- their companies are making plenty of money. So, when we talking about these things in terms of jobs-killing, it is usually framed in a misleading way. You know, it's basically is always from the perspective of corporate profits.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, we will certainly monitor the passage of the REINS Act as it possibly moves through the other Chamber of Congress.

We've been joined by Steve Horn. Steve is a research fellow for DeSmog Blog. He's also a Contributing Editor at CounterPunch magazine. You can check out Steve's work across the web. He's been on The Intercept, The Guardian, Vice News, Truthout and other publications. And you should check out his most recent article titled, "GOP Congress, Trump Already Pushing Koch Industries Bill to Hobble Regulatory Agencies". Steve, we appreciate you joining us today, thank you.

STEVE HORN: Thanks again for having me.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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