After a two-week spring break (really?? who gets two weeks off for spring break?), the Corporate Congress is coming back to the nation’s capital next week. On the agenda is a smorgasbord of attacks on the public interest:
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to curb emissions from existing power plants will be a great deal for consumers. Because the plan relies heavily on efficiency measures to reduce energy use, consumers will see their electricity bills shrink. Yet lawmakers in the McConnell-Boehner Congress, who carry water for the fossil fuel industry, are trying to convince the public that the EPA’s proposal (called the Clean Power Plan) would do the opposite.
A proposal scheduled to be considered at 10 a.m. Tuesday by a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee would help states wiggle out of participating in the Clean Power Plan. The measure would allow for judicial review of any final rule before states would have to comply, and it would give them a way to opt out altogether. The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), claims this would protect households and businesses from higher electricity rates. Funny, because that’s exactly what the Clean Power Plan would do. At least we all have the same goal.
• We expect a Fast Track trade authority bill to be introduced next week. This would revive a controversial Nixon-era mechanism that enables presidents to sign and enter into trade agreements before Congress approves their contents and then railroad the deals through Congress with limited debate and no amendments. The Obama administration wants to use Fast Track to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress. Without Fast Track, the 12-nation pact spanning four continents doesn’t have much of a chance of passage. Which is a good thing, if you know about all the dangerous non-trade rollbacks of basic consumer, environment and health safeguards that are in it. Fast Track would enable the administration to expand the same broken trade model that has led us to a $912 trade deficit, the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs and corporate attacks on public interest policies regarding food safety, environmental laws, Internet freedom, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.
• The House plans to vote next week on repealing the estate tax (H.R. 1105). This would give a significant tax cut to the wealthiest Americans, put a hole in the deficit and slash revenue needed to protect critical programs and make new investments for a more productive economy. The estate tax exists to provide a meaningful check on the growing concentration of wealth, while generating revenue from those most able to pay and encouraging charitable giving. Repealing it would exacerbate the disparity between rich and poor. The vote, of course, is scheduled for April 15, tax day.
• Rumor has it that House lawmakers next week will consider the REINS Act, a bill that would severely hamstring the entire regulatory system by requiring all new economically significant regulations – in other words, the big-ticket public protections that provide the most health, safety, environmental and economic benefits – to be approved by both chambers of Congress before taking effect. It was introduced in January and referred to several committees.
• As soon as Tuesday, the House will take up eight bills that recently cleared the House Financial Services Committee. None of the bills advance consumer interests; all generally favor business:
o H.R. 650 would boost fees for mobile home buyers, thereby making homeownership more costly for those who can least afford it. The measure would strip away protections already created by Congress and implemented by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
o H.R. 685 would reintroduce some of the high fees that borrowers faced in the lead-up to the mortgage crisis, fees that the new mortgage rules were designed to prevent.
o H.R. 1195 would add needless regulatory layers to the CFPB’s processes relating to small businesses.
o H.R. 1259 would enable people and businesses in rural areas to circumvent certain mortgage provisions put in place by the CFPB. The bill is unnecessary because the CFPB already has in place special considerations for rural and underserved small lenders.
o H.R. 1265 would constrain the CFPB’s ability to engage advisory committees in its process of developing policies and engaging in oversight.
o H.R. 1408 would weaken new rules that strengthen controls on bank borrowing.
o H.R. 1529 would allow larger institutions to make high-priced loans, with no escrow protections, to borrowers.
o H.R. 601 would eliminate disclosures that help consumers understand how their information is used without their consent.