The U.S. House yesterday approved the first in a series of bills to limit the president’s authority to regulate business, a move Republicans called necessary for job creation and Democrats labeled a political power grab.
House Speaker John Boehner, who said the package is a top priority, will face difficulty winning final passage of the bills, which the White House has threatened to veto. Nevertheless, Republicans said the votes would highlight the issue of government’s role in regulating business, which they have made a major campaign issue.
Yesterday’s vote would require regulatory agencies to calculate the small-business impact of new rules. Next week, the House will consider a measure taking away President Barack Obama’s authority -- and that of future presidents -- to issue major rules. Congress would have to approve them first.
“The ‘get government off our backs’ message is red meat for the Republican base,” Larry Sabato, director of the center for politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, said in an interview. To moderate voters, he said, “it’s not a full meal. Most people favor at least some regulations. ‘Do you want arsenic in your fruit juice?’ is a great Democratic retort.”
The House also may vote today on legislation requiring federal agencies to implement only the least expensive regulations.
The series of regulatory bills fits with Republicans’ 2010 “Pledge to America” campaign document. Similar reforms appeared in presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract with America,” which helped him become the first Republican House speaker in 40 years.
The package’s centerpiece legislation, scheduled to be voted on next week, is called the Regulations in Need of Scrutiny, or REINS Act. It would require Congress to sign off on every agency rule with an annual cost of $100 million or more on business. Now, Congress must vote to block the president from issuing regulations.
The bill “provides a long-term solution to stopping job- crushing regulations by creating a process to responsibly evaluate whether or not regulations that have a significant economic impact are necessary,” Boehner said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement Nov. 29 it would recommend a presidential veto if it passes both houses of Congress.
Obama’s Regulation Record
The administration works “very aggressively to ensure that we take the necessary action to protect our air and water and that we also issue regulations and reform regulations in a way that makes them as efficient as possible,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney said at a press briefing yesterday.
Recent reports have questioned the extent to which the administration is regulating business.
Obama has weakened proposed rules at a greater rate than his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush, according to a study released Nov. 29 by the Center for Progressive Reform.
Obama had imposed fewer regulations on business than Bush through the first 33 months of their tenures, while the cost of those rules had been higher under Obama, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Regulations ‘Save Lives’
Democrats warned of the consequences of loosening the regulatory environment too much.
“The trio of public safety-killing legislation would make it harder to control and make safe our products that we count on,” Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said on the floor yesterday. “Regulations don’t kill jobs, they save lives.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t focused on bringing the package to the floor for a vote, spokesman Adam Jentleson said in an e-mail.
Even if eventually defeated, the House bills on regulation will emerge in the 2012 presidential race because they capture the conservative theme of getting government out of business, Noah Sachs, an associate law professor at the University of Richmond, said in an interview.
“Each presidential candidate will be put on the spot and forced to take a stand,” Sachs said.
Should Republicans capture the White House and Senate while keeping the House, “I would expect regulatory reform to be one of the first things to pass,” he said.
‘Regulators Gone Wild’
Presidential candidates Representative Michelle Bachmann and Representative Ron Paul have signed on as co-sponsors to the REINS Act. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney endorsed it in his Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth, released Sept. 6.
Regardless of the political party controlling the executive branch, REINS is necessary to stop “regulators gone wild,” Representative Geoff Davis, a Kentucky Republican and lead sponsor of the bill, said yesterday in an interview.
Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers back regulatory reform.
“Manufacturers of all sizes are impacted by harmful and unnecessary regulations, but small businesses are disproportionately affected,” President and CEO Jay Timmons said in a statement yesterday.
The measure “truly would kick-start our economy,” Representative Rick Berg, a North Dakota Republican who co- sponsored the bill, said in an interview yesterday.
“Regulatory uncertainty -- there’s not a business that exists that doesn’t think about that,” Berg said. “The goal is to have businesses make decisions based on supply and demand, not out of concern about regulatory and tax burdens.”
REINS and the other two bills “are aimed at bringing the regulatory system to a halt by tying agencies up in knots,” Rick Melberth, regulatory policy director of OMB Watch, a liberal advocacy organization in Washington, said in an interview. He said the bills “usurp” presidential power.
--Editors: Timothy Franklin, Joe Winski
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