GOP-Passed “Midnight Rules” Bill Could Eliminate Worker, Consumer Protections

Standards to protect nursing home residents. Paid sick leave for employees of federal contractors. Democratic President Barack Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. Even standards that ailing responders to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks must meet to get federal aid.

All these rules, and more, could bite the dust if the Republican-run Senate follows through on – and incoming Republican President Donald Trump signs – GOP-passed legislation that cleared the GOP-run House on Jan. 4.

The measure, HR21,passed on a 238184 party-line vote, with only four Democrats voting for it. It’s named the “Midnight Rules” bill, but it’s really a lot more than that.

Republicans, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., say they’re aiming at rules the Democratic Obama administration implemented in the final few months between Nov. 8 and Jan. 20. But Issa wrote HR21 to cover rules stretching all the way back to last May.

A report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service says HR21 covers 220 rules. They include rules implementing Obama’s executive order, the paid sick leave measure, the nursing home protections and new rules for the renewed James Zadroga program, which provides medical care and other aid to sickened first responders to the 9-11 al-Qaeda attacks.

If HR21 reaches Trump’s desk, and he signs it, lawmakers still would have to approve legislation rolling back those rules. The GOP is chomping at the bit to do so. The Chamber of Commerce, the right-wing Freedom Works group and others all lobbied lawmakers for HR21.

One key rule that could fall came in September from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It improved service standards for nursing homes and banned them from forcing the elderly into arbitration to settle disputes over service and payment.

Another, the Obama executive order, told federal agencies to take companies’ job safety and health, labor law and wage payment -- or nonpayment -- records into account when awarding federal contracts. The Labor Department issued rules covering that on August 23.

Paid leave for workers at federal contractors, such as workers at McDonald’s restaurants on malls at military bases, also could fall victim to any subsequent GOP rules rollback bill. DOL unveiled the rule protecting those workers on Sept. 30.

And in the House debate, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., pointed out a job safety rule to eliminate worker exposure to beryllium, a cancer-causing substance, would also be in danger.

So would, he said, new Education Department standards for accountability of teachers in grades K-12 – a key issue for the nation’s teachers unions.  When Obama’s Education Department issued those new rules, congressional Republicans howled they conflicted with the intent of the new federal education aid law, which turns more power back to states.