Midnight for Protections?

The House of Representatives will vote today, November 17, 2017, on a bill (H.R. 5982) designed to block a wide variety of protections for health and the environment. The bill is a clever, repackaging of longstanding efforts by the Republican leadership to do away with any sensible limits on corporate activities that threaten the public. The bill is misleadingly titled the “Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016.” One would think from the name that it’s intended to prevent the White House from sneaking through last-minute rules that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day. But think again. First, the bill goes after any safeguard that is issued in a president’s final year in office. So outdoing the Arctic seasons, the bill defines “midnight” as lasting an entire year. It’s simply an effort to nullify the result of a previous election. The bill is based on the notion that a president’s final term is really only three years, and any further action is at the sufferance of the Congress. This was a novel theory before the Senate thumbed its nose at the Constitution and sat on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Second, these so-called “midnight rules” don’t represent sudden, sneaky last-minute action by the administration. These safeguards are coming to fruition now at the end of a long process, prescribed by law, that requires public notice and comment. Some of these safeguards have been in the works since President Obama’s first term. In fact, if the Administration wanted to slip something through, it would have short-circuited the process and pushed the rule out long before now. These are not rules on some kind of midnight express; they’re protections that have gone through the long, standard review process. 

Third, the only damaging, expedited process that is actually at issue here is the one created by the bill itself. Republican leaders and right-wing members love to inveigh against omnibus spending bills and other legislative processes, arguing that they prevent thoughtful debate on important individual issues. But guess what the “Midnight Rules” bill does. It enables the Republican leadership to combine many, unrelated efforts to roll back rules into a single omnibus package and then to limit the time allotted to debate the package. Oh, and no amendments are allowed.

Why would Republican leaders and members like the bill’s sponsor Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) try to bundle unrelated legislation, enable it to move through with limited debate and no amendments and mislabel what they were up to? It’s because they rightly expect that the public would not be happy if it was clear what was going on.

The irregular process that the “Midnight Rules” bill would put in place is in service of an extreme, ideological agenda that views any effort to protect the public as suspect. The bill is just another attempt to block any protections for health and the environment.

The American people wanted less gridlock and more effective government. Instead, in their first action since the election, the House Republicans are offering a bill that would prevent the government from effectively protecting the public. The idea that there are “midnight rules” is a fantasy. What’s real are the problems that will fester if the “Midnight Rules Relief Act” passes and enables a right wing Congress to block progress.