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A Look Behind the Curtain
February 1, 2017
Our running list of actions you may have missed that impact America. This is the start of a new feature we will include in our regular newsletter and on our website.
The vast majority of my constituents, more than have ever been in touch with my office, are outraged by the first weeks of the Trump Administration and by the actions of the Republican Congress. Let me be clear, I do NOT believe that everything we care about will be demolished in one giant fell swoop. There will be a few frontal attacks — such as the Affordable Care Act. But I think our principles are most in jeopardy from repeated small acts that occur below the radar — the proverbial slow death by 1,000 cuts.
I fear the old game of deception — pay attention to the shiny object before you, ignore what’s going on behind the curtain. I also fear the “mobbing” approach — do so many thing at one time that most will go unnoticed. It has already started.
Earlier this year, when several high profile confirmation hearings were on TV, the President was being sworn in, and demonstrations were occurring across the nation, the House passed a bill that will significantly undermine consumer protection for investors. The President also signed an Executive Order that will effectively deny millions of lower income women their right to control their own bodies. Late Friday, we learned that Executive Orders had been issued banning refugees and suspending immigration from 7 countries. These created chaos and were apparently written without consulting the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security or the Chairs of any relevant Congressional Committees.
Certainly, we will fight to save what we have accomplished: a social safety net, affordable health care, civil rights and equal opportunity; commonsense regulations to protect both the workplace and the environment; and so much more. We will uphold our principles, defend generations of progress, and, whenever possible, seek improvements in policy and approach.
I believe the most important way to fight back is to make sure people know what they are losing. With news breaking seemingly every hour, as the President spins his “alternative facts”, we must remain vigilant to even the smallest actions. I think shining a light on as many of them as we can is important. We shouldn’t wait until many small cuts add up to an irreversible loss.
So this week we are starting a new feature. We will keep a running list of the actions taken by the Administration and the House of Representatives that I believe have an important and relatively obvious and direct impact on the American dream and on programs that help improve our lives. We will leave Senate actions for others to watch. The full list will be on our website and we’ll update you regularly via our newsletter. There will be some overlap when legislation reported in the newsletter ends up on the list but we think it’s important to be as comprehensive as we can.
Many of you have asked us what you can do to make sure your voice is not lost in the new Administration. This is difficult to answer in Massachusetts because our Congressional delegation is all on the right page. One thing you can do is talk to your friends about what’s on this list, especially friends who don’t live in Massachusetts. Educate your friends and family about these changes in policy and approach.
By the way, the Federal government is huge — we are bound to miss something. If you know of something we missed that you think belongs on this list, please let us know.
I know this is long, but I am afraid we will have many additions in the days and weeks ahead. When legislation we highlight becomes law, we will update the list. Let us know if there is something you think should be included and thanks for reading.
NOTE: We have reversed the order of Behind the Curtain entries so the newest items will now lead the list, although numbering remains the same.
- On January 12, 2017, the House passed H.R. 78, the SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, which adds requirements to the Securities and Exchange Commission whenever they issue a regulation. Sounds great right? Not when you realize that the SEC will now have lots more work to do without adding a single staff member or penny to their budget. The real result is a diminished ability to police bad actors.
- On January 12, 2017 the House passed H.R. 238, the Commodity End User Relief Act. The legislation adds requirements to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regulation of the derivatives market. It places significant burdens on the CFTC’s ability to regulate both the domestic and international swaps market. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that AIG’s abuse of the swaps market almost brought down the world economy.
- On January 20, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order halting a planned reduction in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) fees. This will increase the cost of mortgages for anyone using FHA insurance to buy a home. On average, 750,000 homeowners will pay $500 more per year for the life of their mortgage — that adds up to $15,000 more on a 30 year mortgage.
- On January 23, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order reinstituting the Global Gag Rule. This will block federal funding for international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion services. It’s important to point out that current law already prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion services. The funds in question are being used by NGOs for other health care services. This Executive Order prohibits NGOs from even discussing it or referring patients who request information to other providers. In reality, this policy forces health care providers to cut services for women, increase fees and could close health care clinics.
- On January 24, 2017 the House passed H.R. 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017. As noted above, federal law ALREADY prohibits taxpayer money from being used for abortion services. This legislation takes away tax credits from small businesses offering PRIVATE insurance to their employees if that insurance provides coverage for abortion services. Also, people who buy insurance through the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplaces will not be eligible for premium tax credits if the insurance they choose provides abortion coverage. This legislation has nothing to do with taxpayer money and everything to do with attacking choice.
- On January 25, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order denying federal grant funding to “Sanctuary Cities” who do not comply with requests to hold undocumented immigrants for deportation. Sanctuary Cities generally do not go out of their way to determine someone’s immigration status when making a routine traffic stop for example. It is very important to note that those committing more serious transgressions do have their status reviewed. The Executive Order places an extraordinary burden on local law enforcement without additional resources. It also chills communication between public safety officials and their immigrant communities.
- On January 25, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order facilitating the construction of a wall along the Mexican border. After months of insisting that Mexico will pay for the $15-$20 billion wall we got a “surprise”. It turns out that American taxpayers will get the project started. Does anyone really believe that will change? Also interesting, the President recently implemented a federal hiring freeze then announced 15,000 NEW openings for enforcement and border security.
- On January 27, 2017 President Trump signed Executive Orders suspending the Syrian refugee program and blocking persons from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia from traveling to the United States. This resulted in chaos at our nation’s airports and overseas as travelers with approved visas were prevented from boarding planes bound for the U.S. or sent back to their home countries. The President’s actions also ensnared legal permanent residents because the orders were so sloppily drafted they did not make it clear that persons already issued green cards, after a lengthy application process, could reenter the U.S. This separated U.S. citizens from family members and created great fear and uncertainty. Scholars, researchers and students, with valid student or exchange visitor visas, were also prevented from entry. While these Executive Orders were widely covered, we felt they should be included.
- On January 30, 2017 President Trump issued an Executive Order requiring that for every federal regulation issued, two other regulations had to be repealed. This is a blunt instrument designed to reduce regulations on businesses. It completely disregards the substance and need for each regulation. Remember, there are federal regulations for everything from food safety inspections and air quality to airline safety.
- Late in January the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) approved a Fannie Mae/Blackstone Group deal. Blackstone will use Fannie Mae backed bonds to buy foreclosed homes, which the hedge fund will then sell or rent out for a profit. This is using taxpayer money to help a hedge fund make a profit on foreclosed homes. The deal denies working families the chance to buy one of those homes because they can’t compete with a hedge fund buying properties in bulk. It also drives up rents, mostly in poor neighborhoods.
- On January 28, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order elevating his chief political strategist Steve Bannon to the “principals committee” of the National Security Council. At the same time, he reduced the roles of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence. This is a shocking and frankly frightening move. It elevates someone whose role is political strategy over military and intelligence professionals. So is politics now a more important consideration when it comes to issues of national security?
- On Wednesday February 1, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 41, which reverses a rule requiring companies involved in oil, gas or mineral extraction registered in the U.S. to report any payments they make to foreign governments over $100,000. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed this roll back, raising concerns that it deepens poverty and empowers “autocratic leaders”. This reversal undermines our democratic principles. UPDATE: The President signed H.J. Res. 41 on February 14, 2017.
- On February 1, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 38, which invalidates a rule that prevented companies engaged in mountaintop removal mining from polluting streams. Without this rule, companies don’t have to consider whether their activity will poison a stream, don’t have to monitor the water quality and don’t have to restore the impacted land to its original condition. UPDATE: The President signed H.J. Res. 38 on February 16, 2017.
- On February 2, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 40 which prevents the Social Security Administration from reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) the names of individuals with a severe, medically documented mental disability who also require a designated representative to oversee their benefits. This reporting requirement was included in 1968 gun safety legislation. This resolution makes it easier for someone with a documented mental disability to buy a gun.
- On February 2, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res 37 which invalidates a rule requiring companies seeking federal contracts to report any safety or labor violations they have committed and information on how those violations were addressed. Revoking this rule makes it harder for those awarding federal contracts, which are paid for with taxpayer money, to know if a prospective contractor has ever violated federal labor or safety laws.
- On February 2, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 36 which invalidates a rule requiring oil and gas companies to limit the release of methane on federal lands. Without this rule, companies can keep sending methane gas into the air which has profound health and environmental consequences.
- On February 3, 2017 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed all animal welfare inspection reports from their website, making them inaccessible to the general public. The documents removed include records of abuse and enforcement actions against research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other animal related facilities. These records are now only available via a Freedom of Information Request. Information once readily available has now vanished, shielding cases of animal abuse from the public. Now, we have no way of readily knowing whether the zoo in our community or the dog breeder our neighbor recommended violated animal protection laws.
- On February 3, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibited 9 companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. The ability to access the internet is no longer a luxury. It is an important economic tool and necessary for those seeking employment opportunities because most job openings are advertised online. Most job applications are now online as well.
- On February 3, 2017 the FCC withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down. In some instances, prisoners’ phone calls went as high as $14 a minute. With this recent FCC action, rates will once again soar beyond what is reasonable.
- On February 3, 2017 the FCC also chose not to pursue a proposal that would have reduced the cost of cable boxes. Until this month, the FCC had been advancing a proposal that would allow consumers to buy a cable box from a third party rather than be required to pay a monthly rental fee to their cable provider.
- On January 31, 2017 the federal government halted a regulation giving whistleblowers the ability to seek civil penalties against federal nuclear contractors who retaliate against them. This takes away important protections from workers who may have information to share about improper or dangerous practices. It may make them less likely to come forward.
- On February 15, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 66 ending a program giving states the authority to create workplace savings plans for private sector employees who don’t have access to one. Massachusetts is one of the states participating in this program, which simply helps qualified employees save for retirement.
- On February 15, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 67 ending a program giving counties and municipalities the authority to create workplace savings plans for private sector employees who don’t have access to one. This is basically the same measure as H.J. Res. 66; it just applies to different entities.
- On February 16, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res 43 ending a requirement that states must make Title X grant money available to ALL qualified health care facilities, including Planned Parenthood. This federal money helps community health centers and other medical facilities provide family planning and preventive health services to low income individuals and their families. By nullifying this rule, states can withhold Title X money from any provider that also offers abortion services.
- On February 21, 2017 the Trump Administration released updated instructions on undocumented immigrants, discontinuing priority enforcement and seeking to find and deport anyone in the United States illegally. New detention facilities will be erected and staff hired (despite Trump’s general hiring freeze for federal workers currently in place). Local law enforcement will be asked to participate in these directives. Regardless of how one might feel about our approach to immigration, these new instructions are just impractical. They will require billions of dollars to implement, for new staff and infrastructure. Local police already have important responsibilities. They should not also be asked to check the citizenship of everyone who runs a stop sign. We have provided more details above about the immigration instructions.
- On February 22, 2017 the Trump Administration rescinded directives from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice related to Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. These directives applied to transgender students. With this action, the Trump Administration abolished a policy that simply allowed transgender students to use the restroom they feel most comfortable in. That policy made life just a little easier for a vulnerable group of young people. This is an issue of civil rights and discrimination, not states’ rights.
- On February 28, 2017 President Trump issued an Executive Order requiring the EPA to start repealing “Waters of the United States”. This provided clarity on the bodies of water subject to Clean Water Act protections, including restoring those protections for small streams. More than 117 million Americans currently get their drinking water from small streams, including a million people in Massachusetts. With this action, small streams could now be more vulnerable to pollution, which would in turn have a negative impact on the drinking water of millions of people.
- The Department of Labor is proposing to delay for 60 days the effective date of a fiduciary rule that directs financial advisors to place the best interests of their clients before profits they may make when recommending an investment. The rule would have gone into effect on April 10. The DOL is only offering a 15 day comment period on the 60 day extension, until March 17th. If you would like to submit comments on this, you may do so here.
- During the week of February 27, 2017 the Department of Justice announced that the federal government would no longer challenge a 2011 Texas voter ID law on the grounds that it discriminates against minorities. That particular law has been described as one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country.
- On March 2, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set aside a rule regarding personal data collection by internet service providers (ISPs). That rule required ISPs to obtain explicit customer permission before collecting personal customer data information such as websites visited or browsing habits. The FCC argues now that providers overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, such as Google, do not have to obtain permission before collecting customer data so ISPs shouldn’t be burdened either. Of course, that logic completely sets aside the customer, who may not want their ISP to use their personal information for advertising purposes.
- On March 1, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 83, Disapproving of the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to “Clarification of Employer’s Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain an Accurate Record of Each Recordable Injury and Illness” which weakens the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) authority requiring employers to retain records of serious injuries and deaths for 5 years. In 2012 a court sided with a construction company that failed to record hundreds of violations, noting that if OSHA had not investigated the incident within six months of it occurring, it could not then go back and fine a company for not reporting the incident. OSHA then issued a rule making it clear that if a company did not properly maintain records of an incident for 5 years, OSHA could impose a fine even after six months. This legislation repeals that rule. If it were to become law OSHA could no longer require public disclosure or impose fines on a company if action is not taken within 6 months.
- On March 2, 2107 the House passed H.R. 1004, the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017 which establishes such a broad definition of public communication that agencies would be significantly impeded from doing the work required to implement regulations. It requires agencies to make public details about every pending regulation, including timing and all public communication about it. The legislation also requires agencies to provide Congress with a record of every public communication related to the top 5 regulations every year. This includes every phone call, electronic communication and oral conversation. It should be apparent that no possible notion of transparency could justify these overly burdensome demands. The result would be more delay in implementing regulations.
- On March 7, 2017 the Trump Administration withdrew a rule requiring airlines and ticket agents to disclose fees for checked and carry-on bags at the beginning of an online customer fare search. Now they can continue to bury the information, making it harder for consumers to comparison shop and fully understand how much they will actually pay for a flight.
- The Department of Labor has removed from its website information on consumer protections for retirement investors. The page provided answers to FAQs clarifying a new fiduciary duty rule. This will make it harder for the average person saving for retirement to understand and protect their rights under the new rule.
- On March 9, 2017 the House passed H.R. 725, the Innocent Party Protection Act, which places new burdens on plaintiffs to show that a defendant has been properly added to a court action. This will make it easier for big business to deny the average person their day in court. It gives well-funded defendants another tool to slow down legal actions against them. It also negatively impacts the ability of states to shape their own laws.
- On March 9, 2017 the House passed H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017, which places additional requirements on plaintiffs before they can join a class action lawsuit. It makes litigation easier for corporate defendants because it creates daunting obstacles for plaintiffs. The legislation also mandates that asbestos bankruptcy trusts disclose asbestos victims’ personal information benefiting none other than the companies responsible for these injuries.
- On March 10, 2017 the House passed H.R. 720, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017 which overturns current court rules, taking away judicial discretion when it comes to imposing sanctions for frivolous lawsuits. HR 720 attempts to resurrect an old rule that the courts abandoned in the early 1990s because of its harmful impact, particularly in civil rights cases where plaintiffs often bring novel legal arguments that could be accused of being frivolous before being fleshed out. This bill will make it easier for well-funded defendants to claim that suits against them are frivolous, slow down the courts, and discourage plaintiffs from seeking justice. It’s an approach that was tried and rejected and has no good reason to be resurrected.
- On March 2, 2017 we learned that the Trump Administration skipped ethics training provided to cabinet nominees and other political appointees. In January, the General Services Administration (GSA) contacted the company conducting past training sessions to inform them their services were no longer needed. Ethics training may have prevented the missteps we have seen from the Administration such as asking agencies for lists of staffers working on programs they don’t like or promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line from the White House briefing room. It certainly looks like ethics is not a priority for this Administration. Congressional staffers are required to take ethics training every year — it doesn’t take long.
- On March 10, 2017 the Department of Housing and Urban Development withdrew a Federal Register notice on a proposal to require shelters, housing complexes and other HUD funded facilities to post notices that they are open to all individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. This Administration action sends the troubling message that equal access is not a priority.
- On March 16, 2017 the Department of Education reversed a directive preventing student loan collectors from charging additional fees on borrowers who default but then enter into a repayment agreement within a specific timeframe. Now loan collectors may charge new fees the moment a borrower defaults regardless of efforts to negotiate repayment. The fees alone can soar into the thousands of dollars for a loan of $15,000.
- On March 16, 2017 the House passed H.R. 1181 which alters current law requiring the Veterans Administration to provide the names of veterans who have been classified as “mentally incompetent” and cannot handle their own financial affairs to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). H.R. 1181 requires the VA to obtain a court determination before a veteran’s name can be sent to the NICS, although the legislation does not provide funding or a framework for this new court process, which currently does not exist. The legislation is also retroactive, which means that 170,000 people already on the NICS list would be automatically removed, making it easier for them to buy a gun.
Here are some informative online news services to help you find reports from Boston and the region, as well as national and international news stories.
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