Contempt of Course

Contempt.  That’s the one word that best describes the attitude the Republican Party seems to have toward the American people these days. stick tongue emoji In Tuesday’s post, Detest the Protest, I asked whether Republicans even believe they should be accountable to “the People” anymore?  The pattern of behavior I wrote about in that post – repeated incidents of GOP members dismissing, delegitimizing and/or intimidating & attempting to criminalize protestors – seemed to point to an answer of “no.”  Now a new article out from the Washington Post shows us yet another way in which today’s Republicans seem to be utterly contemptuous of the idea that they should be expected to answer to the American people.

You will probably remember that back in March, Republicans overturned an Obama-era internet privacy rule that would have prohibited internet service providers from collecting & selling customer data without consent.  When the bill was introduced in the Senate, it received a huge amount of attention and stirred enormous backlash from the public.  Now, the Washington Post brings us the inside scoop on the Republican machinations behind that bill.  And it’s not pretty, assuming you’re a fan of transparency and responsive government:

Congressional Republicans knew their plan was potentially explosive. They wanted to kill landmark privacy regulations that would soon ban Internet providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, from storing and selling customers’ browsing histories without their express consent.

So after weeks of closed-door debates on Capitol Hill over who would take up the issue first — the House or the Senate — Republican members settled on a secret strategy, according to Hill staff and lobbyists involved in the battle. While the nation was distracted by the House’s pending vote to repeal Obamacare, Senate Republicans would schedule a vote to wipe out the new privacy protections.

So the article makes clear that Republicans knew their plan would be hugely unpopular with the public, but instead of that causing them to rethink and say “hmm the people we represent don’t want this,” they instead came up with a scheme to make it happen without the public getting any advance notice.  Congress, which is supposed to represent – and give voice to – the people, instead hid behind closed doors and secretly plotted to reverse this regulation while the country would be too distracted to notice it was happening.

Tom Wheeler, who was FCC Chairman under Obama, notes in the article that it took the Obama administration two years to get the internet privacy rules passed.  Trump and the Republican Congress were able to undo them in just a matter of weeks, he points out.  And there was a reason rule’s undoing was so much faster & easier than its creation – something I have harped about on this blog (probably to the point of driving some of you nuts!).  Remember the good old Congressional Review Act (CRA) that I’ve written about a bunch of times here?  Republicans used the CRA and its special fast track maneuver to reverse the internet privacy rules.

If you’re not familiar with the CRA, please read DC Deciphered’s previous post, I SPy, which explains how it works.  I think it’s really important to understand this highly unusual procedure the GOP used to undo the internet privacy rule, along with a dozen other Obama era regulations.  The I SPy post also makes clear the contrast with the typical process that would have been required to overturn a regulation, if not for use of the CRA.  I’ve been banging away about the CRA since back in early February because I feared this sneak technique wasn’t getting enough attention in the mainstream media.*

In short, the CRA allows for rules to be changed or reversed very quickly by Congress, instead of the relevant agency (FCC, FDA, EPA, etc) having to go through the normally complex, years-long rule making process. As I wrote in a more recent post on this topic, Deconstruction Zone, this is enormously consequential:

Typically, making or changing or reversing a rule is an arduous process.  And it’s that way for a reason.  All of the affected parties are supposed to have a chance to weigh in before a rule is changed.  The agency involved is supposed to consult with the stakeholders (affected industries, interest groups, etc) and there’s supposed to be a prescribed comment period for the public to weigh in.

Then, before the rule is changed, the agency takes all of that feedback into consideration, and may adjust the rule accordingly.  By using the CRA method to reverse so many Obama-era rules, the GOP skipped that entire process.  The rules were changed hurriedly, with little to no discussion, and sometimes before the public even realized what was happening.

And from I SPy:

By using the CRA, Trump & the GOP are circumventing the normally long, deliberate, public process required to reverse a regulation, and instead are overturning this rule (and many others) within a matter of weeks, with very little notice to us, the public, the people they are supposed to serve.

So the CRA allows Congress (in this case, the GOP – and it’s only ever been the GOP that’s used the CRA) to overturn regulations using a method that essentially subverts the democratic process.  Because the bill is not treated as standard legislation, the standard legislative procedures – which generally slow things down & allow more room & time for public notice & debate – are missing.  And because it’s taken away from the agency process, the safeguards that are built into the agency rulemaking process are not there either. This GOP was thus able to prepare this bill entirely in secret and then vote on it within a matter of days without the public ever knowing it was coming and leaving the public no time to prepare a response.

So that was how the GOP sprung this bill on an unsuspecting public. (I highly recommend reading the whole article to get the full feel of the plotting that went into this – the GOP was very strategic about how to keep this hidden from the public & how/when to finally show their hand).  Once the bill was introduced, the backlash was fierce.  And here’s the part I want to stress: it wasn’t just the usual suspects, this wasn’t the GOP just ignoring “the other side” – the opposition came loud & strong from both sides of the political spectrum:

NBC, CNN, FOX and MSNBC carried stories about the vote. And conservative online platforms — such as Breitbart News and Reddit sites devoted to Trump — were packed with posts from Trump supporters who were angry about the bill.

More than 20,000 calls flooded House members’ office phone lines . . .

But it was to no avail.  Republicans were determined to overturn this regulation, constituents be darned.  On March 23 it passed the Senate with 50 Republicans voting for it, and all Democrats voting against (2 Republicans didn’t vote).  On March 28 it passed the House with 215 Republicans voting for it, 15 Republicans & 205 Democrats voting against (9 House members didn’t vote).  On April 3, Trump signed it into law.

The most egregious part to me isn’t even the fact that they passed this law against the protestations of the majority. It’s that they engineered the entire process in secret from the start, knowing that the bill would be unpopular.  They kept it from the people, because they were unwilling to deal with the consequences of putting out an unpopular piece of legislation.

I do believe it’s possible that – on rare occasions – Congress might genuinely feel they need to pass a bill that is counter to the very clear wishes of the voters.  And that may be justified by information they have that the public isn’t privy to, or based on expertise they have in a particular subject matter, or simply based on the knowledge & experience they’ve gained from years of experience as public servants. There could truly be circumstances where that is called for.

But in those cases, they must be willing to put the bill out there, explain it, defend it, and engage with the public about it.  Instead, what Republicans did here made clear once again that they don’t believe they owe the people any answers. They believe they can pass legislation the public hates and avoid all accountability for it.

As with the multiple ways they’ve been dismissing & extinguishing protests, as with the activist that Rep. Frelinghuysen intimidated rather than addressed, as with the Montana House candidate who wouldn’t abide a reporter asking him policy questions, this is just another instance where Republicans have made it clear that they don’t answer to the American people.  And they don’t believe they should have to.  Contempt.  There’s no better word to describe it.

*****

Note:

*The media finally starting focusing in on the CRA just a few weeks ago, when the window of time allowed for Republicans to use this technique was coming to a close. Unfortunately not nearly enough attention was given to this issue while Republicans were employing it, and they were able to use it to overturn more than a dozen Obama-era regulations, most with little fanfare.  This should have been major news, as prior to this administration, the CRA had only been used once, ever, to overturn a regulation put in place by a previous administration.

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