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Seoul and Pyongyang are reportedly set to make a huge step in the peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula, as officials from the two states are negotiating a joint statement outlining a formal end to hostilities.
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Republicans are preparing to open a new front in their push to roll back regulations across the government, using a maneuver that could enable them to strike down decisions by federal agencies that reach back decades.
As soon as Tuesday, GOP senators are expected to use the Congressional Review Act to topple safeguards issued by the CFPB in 2013 that were intended to discourage discrimination in auto lending.
While Republicans in the Trump era have already taken advantage of the 1996 law to remove more than a dozen recently issued rules, this would be the first time that Congress will have used it to kill a regulatory policy that is several years old.
Now, actions going back to President Bill Clinton’s administration could be in play under the procedure GOP lawmakers are undertaking, forcing numerous agencies to reconsider how they roll out new regulations.
“It’s a hugely important precedent,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the architect of the effort, said in an interview. “It’s potentially a big, big opening.”
While conservatives are applauding the effort as a way to rein in rogue bureaucrats and boost the economy, consumer advocates are warning that the consequences could be dire.
“This takes an already incredibly dangerous law and cranks it up to 11,” said James Goodwin, senior policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform.
Republicans are leveraging two key provisions of the Congressional Review Act.
They’re again taking advantage of fast-track authority that allows a simple majority of the Senate to pass a resolution rolling back a rule if the vote occurs within a window that’s open for no more than a few months. The provision enables senators to avoid a filibuster.
But the more novel use lies in the law’s requirement that federal agencies submit rules to Congress for their potential disapproval. Republicans have landed on a way to target a wide array of decisions — including regulatory guidance — that haven’t typically been implemented as formal rules under the Administrative Procedure Act.
“You have this unimaginably large universe of stuff that is now eligible for repeal under the CRA,” Goodwin said, citing a hypothetical Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace safety poster as a potential example. “Agencies don’t submit all this stuff because it would be an administrative nightmare.”
In the case of the auto-lending policy, the CFPB released it as a guidance document rather than a formal rule governed by the notice-and-comment requirements of the APA. As such, it wasn’t technically submitted to lawmakers for the purposes of the Congressional Review Act. That means the clock for congressional review never started.
That changed last year. For advocates of deregulation, the stars had aligned thanks to the ascendance of a Republican president, Donald Trump, eager to roll back rules and the Republicans retaining control of Congress.
Toomey, the former president of the conservative Club for Growth, went on the hunt for ways the GOP could take advantage of its congressional majority to eliminate federal rules.
He found a way to wield the power that the Congressional Review Act gives a majority of the Senate to sidestep obstruction via filibuster when it comes to years-old regulatory actions.
To do so, he asked the Government Accountability Office to determine whether the CFPB auto-lending guidance qualified as a rule for the purposes of the Congressional Review Act. In December, GAO told him that it did in fact satisfy the legal definition of a rule, starting the clock for Republicans to undo it without having to seek any help from Democrats.
“When regulators regulate by guidance rather than through the process they’re supposed to use, which is the Administrative Procedure Act and do a proper rulemaking, they shouldn’t be able to get away with that,” Toomey said. “If we can get a determination that the guidance rises to the significance of being a rule, then from that moment the clock starts on the CRA opportunity.”
Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, said it “is really going to open up a Pandora’s box.” Public Citizen and 60 other advocacy groups covering the gamut of finance, the environment, labor and gay rights are calling on Congress to oppose the CFPB rollback, saying it would set a dangerous precedent.
They warned it would put at risk not only protections for workers, consumers, minorities and the environment, but also regulatory certainty for businesses.
“Expanding the power of the CRA to overturn guidance from decades ago will threaten protections hardworking families rely on, making it harder for middle class Americans to get ahead and responsible businesses to follow the law,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said.
Critics have also questioned the need to undo the CFPB auto-lending guidance because the bureau is now led by a Trump appointee, acting Director Mick Mulvaney, who could eliminate it himself. Mulvaney told lawmakers last week he was reviewing the policy. The National Automobile Dealers Association and the American Financial Services Association are supporting the rollback of the anti-discrimination measure, arguing that the way the CFPB crafted the guidance was flawed.
Other lawmakers have begun to test the waters. In November, GAO in a response to a request from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) confirmed that a 2016 plan from the Bureau of Land Management was a rule for the purposes of review under the CRA. A spokeswoman for Murkowski did not respond to a request for comment.
Paul Larkin, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has been advocating for Congress to take advantage of this deregulatory pathway in the Congressional Review Act, saying it could force agencies to comply with formal rulemaking requirements and help the economy by cutting red tape.
“This would indicate that Congress believes it can reach back beyond what the conventional wisdom was,” he said.
The hidebound U.S. Senate is expected to soon change its rules for a member who just made history as a new mom.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who this month became the first sitting senator to have a baby while in office, has submitted a resolution that would allow senators to bring a child under one year old onto the Senate floor during votes. Senate leaders appear poised to approve the request, according to Senate sources.
The Illinois Democrat has been on a campaign to change the chamber’s rules, which prohibit children from the floor, arguing that the archaic ban doesn’t support working parents and would make it difficult for her to vote.
The Senate sometimes stacks several votes in a row or gets sidelined by delays, requiring lawmakers to be on the floor for an extended period of time.
“I can’t be away from a newborn infant in the first three months for that long,” Duckworth told POLITICO before her baby was born.
Duckworth, whose baby arrived April 9, plans to take an unofficial maternity leave. She said before Maile Pearl Bowslbey arrived that she would come to the Senate to vote when needed or when an important vote was scheduled and that she would bring her infant.
The Senate could vote as soon as next week on Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo.
Senators are required to appear in the Senate chamber in person to vote. She can’t hand her child off to a staffer, who is a federal employee, because of conflict of interest rules. Duckworth would have to hand her child to a caregiver or perhaps another senator to be allowed to enter the chamber to vote.
Duckworth’s chief of staff, Kaitlin Fahey, said the proposal — which was introduced by fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin — was drafted with input from members of both parties.
“Senator Duckworth is glad to be able to offer this legislation to ensure no senator with an infant is prevented from performing their constitutional responsibilities—and send a message that working parents everywhere deserve family-friendly workplace policies,” Fahey said. “She is optimistic that this will be resolved quickly.”
The Rules Committee is expected to move the measure, perhaps as soon as this week. Committee Chairman Roy Blunt said last week that he supports the rules change and ranking member Amy Klobuchar’s office said she does as well. After the Rules Committee approves the resolution, the full Senate would have to vote on the measure or approve it by unanimous consent.
Rules changes are rare in the Senate. In 1997, Sen. Mike Enzi asked the Senate to allow lawmakers to use laptops on the floor. The request was met with four months of study and a rejection. Electronics are still not technically allowed on the Senate floor.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry expressed his willingness to help coal and nuclear plants out with an emergency order similar to one requested by energy firm FirstEnergy earlier this month.
Two weeks ago, FirstEnergy asked the Department of Energy (DOE) to invoke Section 202(c), which allows the department to order certain US power plants to keep running during wartime or during a natural disaster. The energy firm then filed for bankruptcy a few days later.
There has been skepticism within the DOE that Section 202(c) should be used for any purpose other than a disaster. But at Thursday’s hearing, Perry seemed to play up the dire state of the American grid throughout his comments in front of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy, where he took questions from representatives about the Trump administration’s budget request for 2019.
Some economists say it should be raised. Others say it’s already too high. But what if both sides are missing the point? By Peter C Baker
No idea in economics provokes more furious argument than the minimum wage. Every time a government debates whether to raise the lowest amount it is legal to pay for an hour of labour, a bitter and emotional battle is sure to follow – rife with charges of ignorance, cruelty and ideological bias. In order to understand this fight, it is necessary to understand that every minimum-wage law is about more than just money. To dictate how much a company must pay its workers is to tinker with the beating heart of the employer-employee relationship, a central component of life under capitalism. This is why the dispute over these laws and their effects – which has raged for decades – is so acrimonious: it is ultimately a clash between competing visions of politics and economics.
In the media, this debate almost always has two clearly defined sides. Those who support minimum-wage increases argue that when businesses are forced to pay a higher rate to workers on the lowest wages, those workers will earn more and have better lives as a result. Opponents of the minimum wage argue that increasing it will actually hurt low-wage workers: when labour becomes more expensive, they insist, businesses will purchase less of it. If minimum wages go up, some workers will lose their jobs, and others will lose hours in jobs they already have. Thanks to government intervention in the market, according to this argument, the workers struggling most will end up struggling even more.