Republicans are coming after worker protections, in Congress and in the courts —  yet again. This time in a little-noticed section of the Republican debt-limit bill narrowly passed by the House of Representatives last week, if approved will lead to the needless death, injury and illness of American workers. (As well as harming consumers and damaging the environment.)

The Republican “Limit, Save and Grow Act” is 100% composed of poison pills — provisions that the Biden administration would never accept. One of the most poisonous fatally undermines protections for workers, consumers and the environment.

And no one is talking about it.

We’re all familiar (or should be familiar) with the debt limit fight: To summarize, the Republicans are holding the world economy hostage by refusing to raise the debt limit, and pay for the budget items already agreed to by past Congresses and Presidents, unless Biden repeals every accomplishment he’s made over the past several years: environmental protections, college loan relief, measures to control climate change and many others. And unless he makes draconian cuts in the parts of the federal budget that Republicans don’t like: everything from Veterans benefits and the ability of government to go after rich tax cheats — not to mention deep cuts in all worker and environmental protection agencies.

Just reminder: Future spending and taxes are determined by annual appropriations bills which don’t come due until September 30, not by extorting the President.

It’s kind of like taking your entire office out to drinks and a hugely expensive steak dinner and then refusing to pay the bill until it’s renegotiated because, oops! you really can’t afford it. Oh, and if they don’t renegotiate, you’re going to burn down the restaurant.

But I digress.


An almost unnoticed section of the House’s debt limit bill would also effectively stop agencies like OSHA and the EPA from ever issuing any new regulations to protect worker safety, the environment or consumers.

If you flip to page 94 of the 316 page “Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023,” you’ll find in Division 3, “TITLE IV—REGULATIONS FROM THE EXECUTIVE IN NEED OF SCRUTINY.

What is this, and what type of scrutiny do regulations from the Executive need that they don’t already have?

First, this language is not new. Commonly known as the REINS Act, it’s been stewing in Congress since the 112th Congress (2011-2013). It was passed several times by the House of Representatives when Republicans were in control, but never saw floor action in the Senate.

According to consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, the REINS Act “represents one of the most radical threats in generations to our government’s ability to protect the public from harm.”

According to consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, the REINS Act “represents one of the most radical threats in generations to our government’s ability to protect the public from harm.”

How does it do that?

The REINS Act would require congressional approval of all major regulations issued by federal agencies before those regulations could go into effect. If both houses of Congress don’t approve a regulation within 70 days, it’s dead until the next Congress. In other words, just one House of Congress could kill worker or environmental safeguards by doing what Congress does best: nothing.

For example, one of the crowning achievements of OSHA during the Obama administration was the issuance of its silica standard which protects millions of workers from exposure to the cancer-causing dust.  OSHA’s regulatory process moves slower than a snail’s pace and the silica standard had been 20 years in the making. According to OSHA when the standard was issued in 2016, it would “save more than 600 lives annually and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – each year.”

Workers across the country may have been rejoicing, but not the business community or Republicans in Congress who had brutally attacked OSHA’s efforts to control silica during the entire decades-long process. As expected, the business community sued OSHA after the standard was issued, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected all industry challenges and directed OSHA to consider strengthening the rule by adding work-removal protection which would require employers to keep workers from exposure when recommended by a medical finding, determination or opinion.

But now let’s travel back to the past in an alternative universe where the REINS Act was the law of the land on March 24, 2016 when OSHA issued the silica standard. Imagine that OSHA, after 20 years of work on the standard, was required to get approval of the Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate before the silica standard could take effect and workers were finally protected.

What are the odds that Republicans in both the House and the Senate would have voted to allow OSHA to go ahead and put the standard into effect?

a) Zero
b) Zilch
c) Are you out of your mind?
d) All of the above.

The obvious answer is: d). And 600 workers would die needlessly each year until Congress acted — if ever.

But none of that seems to bother Republicans.

According to Congressman  Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, “The REINS Act will place a much-needed check on unelected bureaucrats.  Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), who re-introduced the bill this year, called the REINS Act “a core part of House Republicans’ mission to reintroduce government accountability and to restore Congress’ role to check the regulatory actions of federal agencies.”  Senator Rand Paul has reintroduced the bill in the Senate. It has 180 Republican co-sponsors in the House and 23 in the Senate. No Democrats have cosponsored the bill in either house.

The REINS Act is Unnecessary

Now in case you run into your MAGA uncle at a Memorial Day picnic who tries to convince you that Jim Jordan has a point — that we actually need to “rein” in unelected bureaucrats, this is what you can tell him:

Aside from being damaging, the REINS Act is not necessary. Congress, when it passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, as well as other worker, environmental and consumer legislation, give the experts in Executive Branch agencies, like OSHA, the authority to issue regulatory protections, as long as certain requirements were followed. For example, before OSHA issues a new standard, the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires the agency to determine whether a “significant risk” exists, show that the new standard will reduce that risk, and prove that the new standard is technologically and economically feasible.

There is also a process early in the development of new standard for a review of the potential impact on small businesses.

The REINS Act is not only damaging, it’s just not necessary: Congress gave the Executive Branch the authority to issue regulatory protections, and the process already receives scientific, public and judicial scrutiny.

In addition, there is robust opportunity for public comment — both in written form, and — for OSHA — public hearings in which anyone can testify, and hearing witnesses can question OSHA “bureaucrats,” as well as any of the other witnesses. And OSHA is required to respond to every comment.

OSHA has to be meticulous and comprehensive about this process because if someone, like the business community, doesn’t think OSHA has complied with all of the regulatory requirements, they can sue. Which they always do.  After every OSHA standard ever issued.

Fortunately, as in the case of silica, OSHA almost always wins those lawsuits. Because the “unelected bureaucrats” are actually skilled, knowledgeable experts overseen by skilled and knowledgeable attorneys who ensure that OSHA follows all of the rules before a standard is issued.

If you have the time and interest, you can see for yourself how the regulatory sausage is made. If you look at an OSHA standard after it’s published in the Federal Register, you’ll find that the regulatory language itself ranges from a few pages to maybe a dozen. But the “preamble,” which contains the required scientific, economic, feasibility and legal justifications for the standard is many hundreds of page long.

In other words, as Jim Jordan and Kat Cammick clearly understand (assuming their staffs are doing their jobs), Congress gave the Executive Branch the authority to issue regulatory protections, and the process already receives robust scientific, public and judicial scrutiny.

As Public Citizen notes,

The REINS Act would inappropriately – but deliberately – inject political considerations into a regulatory process that is supposed to be based on objective agency science and expertise. Federal agencies employ personnel with policy, scientific, and technical expertise to produce smart and sensible regulations. Allowing Congress to have the final say on regulations would give lobbyists, special interest groups, and those who provide legislators with campaign contributions even more influence in shaping a rule.

And they may not be all the Republicans have up their sleeves. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that

The final version of the so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act does not address their fuller policy wish list — and some far-right Republicans didn’t vote for it. But conservatives declared victory anyway, with some promising to push even harder for aggressive spending cuts, targeting everything from workplace safety inspections to federal college aid in the months to come.

Step 2: Eliminate OSHA

The REINS Act is bad enough. But what else could they be cooking up as their extortion scheme progresses?

Here’s something: At the end of March, Republicans Andy Biggs (AZ), Matt Rosendale (MT), Matt Gaetz (FL), Bob Good (VA), Chip Roy (TX) and Eli Crane (AZ) introduced H.R. 1942, the “Nullify the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NOSHA) Act,” which would eliminate the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

According to Biggs, “OSHA’s existence is yet another example of the federal government creating agencies to address issues that are more appropriately handled by state governments and private employers.”

What does Biggs have against OSHA?

According to the Congressman, “Arizona, and every other state, has the constitutional right to establish and implement their own health and safety measures, and is more than capable of doing so.”

But Congress created OSHA to set national standards so that individual stat4es couldn’t engage in a race to the bottom, where each state tries to lure business by setting weaker standards than the state next door.

To give states the opportunity to set the bar higher, Congress allowed states to set up their own OSHA programs, as long as the states’ standards and enforcement policy were at least as effective — or more effective — than federal OSHA’s.

Arizona is one of those state plans. What undoubted has Biggs so pissed off is that Federal OSHA recently  proposed to eliminate Arizona’s state OSHA plan because the state had failed to adopt OSHA’s COVID emergency temporary standard, as well as other prior standards, and was not adequately administering its program. OSHA withdrew its action after a new governor was elected

Biggs also called OSHA an example of “bloated federal government.

The current federal debt is $31.46 trillion. Eliminating OSHA  would reduce the federal debt to…$32.46 trillion.

Am I Being Too Political?

I often get criticized over here at Confined Space headquarters (and throughout my career) for “politicizing” workplace safety and health issues. Making it a fight between Democrats and Republicans when it should just be an objective scientific discussion about how best to protect workers.

Actually, I would like nothing better than objective scientific discussions.

But I’m not the politicizer. Those politicizing the issue are politicians — mostly Republicans — who attack workers rights, try to dismantle OSHA protections and further impede the regulatory process in the name of “free enterprise.” Those politicizing the issue are the ones that like about OSHA standards supposedly killing jobs — when the truth is that the failure to issue standards kills workers.

Agencies like OSHA, the EPA, the FDA and the Consumer Finance Protection Board were created by Congress issue and enforce regulations based on objective science and agency expertise. It’s the REINS act and the endless other Republican attempts to weaken worker safety and health, environmental and consumer protections that inject politics into the regulatory process.

I’m just fighting back.

One thought on “Republicans Weaponize Debt Limit Fight to Destroy Worker Protections”
  1. And somebody us greatly appreciate your efforts. Thanks, Jordan, for stripping away the bs.

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