Democrats sound alarm over possible last-minute cuts to safety-net programs by Trump administration

The Trump administration has finalized a rule making it harder for individuals denied disability benefits to appeal

By Igor Derysh
November 18, 2020 12:13AM (UTC)
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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden at the White House on November 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. The is the first time President Trump has spoken since election night last week, as COVID-19 infections surge in the United States. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Democrats sounded the alarm over potential last-minute rules and regulations implemented by the Trump administration which would cut Social Security and other safety-net programs before President Donald Trump leaves office.

The Social Security Administration on Monday finalized a rule which would allow the agency to use its own attorneys to hear appeals from individuals denied disability benefits instead of administrative law judges, who are more independent from the administration.  

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Democrats warned that the change would make it more difficult for individuals to appeal such decisions and "erode due process for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income applicants and beneficiaries and threaten their access to their earned benefits."

"The rule puts unqualified agency staff in control of deciding appeals hearings and contradicts the congressional intent of the law governing such proceedings. We condemn this political decision that will go into effect just as the Trump Administration is on its way out the door," House Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal, D-Mass., said in a joint statement with Rep. John Larson, D-Ct., the chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, and Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., the chairman of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee.

Lame-duck periods often feature a flurry of rule and regulatory changes. The Trump administration is also pushing to finalize two rule changes which would cut food aid to millions of individuals and racing to implement a plethora of changes at the Environmental Protection Agency ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

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Democrats warned the White House against implementing "midnight rules" which "may be rushed through without providing Congress adequate time to review these rules, as required by law."

"We have strong concerns that there may be last-minute roll-backs of health, safety and environmental protections," House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. wrote in a letter to Russell Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Paul Ray, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The letter noted that "agencies publish more final regulations at the end of presidential administrations," adding that the final years of the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations saw significant "midnight rulemaking."

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But the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency, found that 25% of "economically significant rules" implemented in the lame-duck periods of those three administrations "did not comply" with federal law, the lawmakers said.

"Because the departing administration may rush the adoption of midnight rules during the transition, the quality, public input and review of these rules may suffer," the letter added with a call for the officials to "immediately instruct agencies to avoid promulgating midnight rules."

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The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to overturn new rules imposed by federal agencies within 60 days, as the Republican-led Congress did following Obama's departure. Republicans overturned 16 regulations issued in Obama's final days in office after Trump took over, Politico noted, suggesting that Democrats may be teeing up a similar effort if they are able to win control of the Senate in both runoff elections in Georgia.

Nadler and Maloney sent a similar letter to the Government Accountability Office, urging the agency to "closely monitor" the Trump administration's last-minute changes and report any major rules that "do not fully comply" with federal law.


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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Aggregate Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Food Jerry Nadler Politics Republicans Richard Neal Social Security