House Republicans are preparing to push quickly next year for legislation that would radically restrict the government's ability to regulate everything from auto safety to wilderness protection.
Republicans in the House have pledged to push to a vote within the first 100 days of the new session legislation that would increase the ability of groups affected by regulations to challenge them before they take effect or are even formally proposed.For the first time, analyses of costs and benefits prepared in the initial phase of drafting regulations would be subject to review by outside experts, and these analyses could be challenged in court.
The Republican proposal would also drive down the overall burden on business and state and local governments by creating a regulatory "budget" - a specific ceiling on the costs of complying with all federal regulations.
That ceiling would be steadily reduced, and Congress would agree not to pass laws whose costs would exceed the ceiling.
If adopted, the Republican proposals would fundamentally alter the workings of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and affect matters as diverse as the Transportation Department's pending decision about whether to require anti-lock brakes on passenger cars and the Forest Service's tentative proposal to regulate the use of permanent metal anchor bolts by rock climbers in wilderness areas.
The proposals, included in a draft bill called the Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act of 1995, are the latest salvo in a decadeslong struggle between Republicans and Democrats over the federal government's power to make rules. The obscure and often arcane rulemaking process has grown into one of the government's most formidable functions.
The new plan goes well beyond even the anti-regulatory agenda of President Ronald Reagan, involving ideas like the regulatory budget that have never been seriously considered before.
The bill's basic approach is to limit the scope of regulations by imposing detailed strictures on the rulemakers themselves.
It includes, for example, one paragraph that bars any rule from being published for public comment unless the director of the Office of Management and Budget certifies that among other grammatical requirements it avoids double negatives and "contains only sentences that are as short as practical."
Public debate on the Republicans' proposal has just begun, as tax cuts, spending cuts and welfare reform have dominated the political agenda since the Republicans won sweeping victories in November.
But interest groups on both sides of the issue are enlisting in the struggle by the hundreds, guaranteeing that it will be among the most bitterly contested items considered in the coming year and making the outcome impossible to predict. It is unclear, for example, to what extent Senate Republicans will join in the sweeping measures their colleagues in the House are proposing.
The Clinton administration, alarmed at what it views as a comprehensive assault on the entire regulatory system, has already begun a campaign to defend current practices as founded on "common sense."