A Republican takeover of the House will make Capitol Hill a much less relevant place for President Obama, and is likely to turn the administration’s focus toward working through federal agencies and regulation — which it can do unilaterally — rather than trying to pass new legislation.
Opponents of the Obama administration’s agenda said they are shifting their attention away from the legislative arena and toward the regulatory field of battle.
“Right now we see the next two years, the battles moving from Capitol Hill probably to the regulatory agencies,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In one sense, Obama and congressional Democrats don’t need to pass any more major pieces of legislation. Having passed a massive overhaul of the health care system and financial regulation, they will have plenty to do – and plenty they will be able to do – simply in writing regulations and rules to implement those laws.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also planning to regulate carbon emissions, in the absence of a bill written by Congress to do so. That figures to be a third major avenue of action for the Obama administration no matter who controls Congress.
And the fourth avenue is labor law, where the Obama administration shares many of the same goals as organized labor, which is also one of its biggest sources of political and financial support.
“With the slowing of the labor/employment agenda on Capitol Hill, the administration is utilizing the regulatory agencies to implement its agenda,” read a U.S. Chamber report released this past week.
Vin Weber, an influential Republican lobbyist, said Republicans on Capitol Hill are gearing up for a major confrontation with the administration over its regulatory approach.
“They could attempt to be conciliatory and try move to the middle … or you can believe that they really believe they are a transformational presidency and they’re just going to carry on through a regulatory apparatus or regulatory approach what they’ve done the last two years with a legislative approach,” Weber said in an interview.
“Most Republicans believe that’s what they’ll do, that they’ll try to be as aggressive in transforming policy through the regulatory approach as they were through the legislative approach,” Weber said. “So Republicans get all this. But they’re not gonna just sit back and watch and do nothing about it. They’ll fight back.”
The Chamber’s report included a chart showing numerous appointees with “long standing ties to organized labor” in senior positions at the Department of Labor, which they said raises questions about whether the agency will be fair toward employers.
A Department of Labor spokeswoman declined to comment. But the president’s strong alliance with organized labor was on display Monday as he flew to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to speak to several thousand union workers at the annual “Laborfest” celebration.
“A strong economy needs a strong labor movement,” said Obama, referring to the rally’s organizers in the AFL-CIO as his “brothers and sisters.”
The Chamber report also focused on an area they call “sub-regulatory” initiatives, which they said are policies carried out by agencies without public vetting or congressional approval.
“Often, these campaigns begin as initiatives to ‘educate’ workers about their rights or employers about their duties under existing law, but result in greater enforcement, increased litigation and higher penalties against employers,” the report said. “Of course, regardless of the merits of the underlying challenge, employers must spend thousands of dollars in defending themselves.”