Anyone wondering why public disdain for Congress is sky high need look no further than the latest stunt by House Republicans: In response to Americans’ top priority—more good jobs—the House passed a radical anti-regulation bill on Thursday that not only cynically pits people who have jobs against those desperate to find them, but also threatens public health and workplace safety—without creating a single good job.
The centerpiece of the House effort is a provision stating that no agency may take “any significant regulatory action” until the monthly unemployment rate is “equal to or less than 6.0 percent.” Laughably touted as a “job creation” measure, H.R. 4078’s true aim is to bring federal regulation to a grinding halt and eviscerate public safeguards across the entire range of federal agencies in one fell swoop.
With few exceptions, the House proposal would mean that federal agencies may not adopt any new rules—or even write or seek public comment on rules—until the unemployment rate drops down to levels not seen since 2008. It may be 2017 before we get back to that point, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget.
Meanwhile, urgently needed reforms would be cast into indefinite limbo. Occupational safety measures would be delayed at a time when there are three million annual injuries and illnesses that workers suffer on the job – injuries that could land workers in the unemployment line themselves. The 2.5 million home care workers currently excluded from basic minimum wage and overtime laws that most of us take for granted would have to wait many more years for these protections—never mind that increased pay in their pocket could help boost demand and hiring.
For the architects of this effort, it seems the solution to the unemployment crisis is to put people with jobs in danger and to leave them vulnerable to workplace abuses such as wage theft. While employers get off scot-free, unsafe and unfair workplaces are the sacrifice that one group of workers should be willing to make for those searching for work, even if there’s no evidence that this unscrupulous trade-off would solve the plight of the unemployed.
The cynicism of House leaders in holding good jobs hostage to an ongoing unemployment crisis that they are doing nothing to address is simply breathtaking.
Let’s keep in mind that the biggest hindrance to hiring is not over-regulation but lack of demand, according to numerous surveys conducted by the American Sustainable Business Council, the Main Street Alliance, the Small Business Majority, the McClatchy/Tribune News Service, and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Also keep in mind that the current White House has issued fewer final regulations than any administration going back twenty years. And consider this irony: The American Chemistry Council recently requested new regulations from the FDA in order to bolster consumer confidence in the safety of their plastic products.
There are more productive ways for Congress to spend its time. Passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last week, would raise the spending power of millions of struggling workers and their families and increase consumer demand. Addressing the infrastructure problems that have left millions of Americans sitting in the dark this summer by improving the power grid and developing alternative energy sources would also put unemployed workers back on the job.
Allowing the quality of our workplaces to deteriorate for years at a time is no way to build a solid economic recovery with good jobs as its foundation. Leaders in Congress owe it to the American people—those with jobs, and those who want to work—to stop spinning their wheels and wasting time on partisan stunts and cynical legislation like H.R. 4078 and its ilk. With nearly four months remaining until the next election, congressional leaders need to get down to business and do the serious job of putting America back to work.