Regulatory reform bills ready to move

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee was set to approve two regulatory reform bills Thursday after rejecting Democrats' attempts to water down the more controversial of the measures.

The two bills, the Regulatory Right-to-Know Act and the Regulatory Improvement Act, have been pushed by Governmental Affairs Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., for more than a year. The bills essentially would compel government agencies to consider more carefully the private sector costs of regulations.

The committee is expected to pass the Right-to-Know Act without much opposition, since a similar requirement has been included for the last two years in annual spending bills.

The bill would make permanent the requirement that the Office of Management and Budget publish the annual costs on businesses of all agency regulations. The bill, cosponsored by Governmental Affairs ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is expected to win broad Democrat support.

But Lieberman will lead the Democrats in opposing the Regulatory Improvement Act, which would require government agencies to conduct cost-benefit analyses and risk assessments on regulations that cost more than $100 million.

Democrats plan to offer as many as 10 amendments in an effort to soften the bill.

Lieberman, who is expected to offer six amendments, and Democratic Sens. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, Max Cleland of Georgia, and Richard Durbin of Illinois argue that the bill imposes too many time-consuming requirements on the agencies and would block many environment, health and labor protections.

Most of the amendments seek exemptions to the requirement for regulations that address health, environment and labor concerns.

Sources expect the committee to accept a few of the amendments in order to assuage Democrats, as they did in a previous markup on the bill, but will approve the bill largely in its current form.

Thompson and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the bill's chief cosponsor, have won endorsement of more than a half-dozen Democrats, including Minority Leader Daschle, but most Democratic cosponsors do not sit on the committee.

Congressional sources said the bill faces an uncertain future because Majority Leader Lott does not want to bring the bill to the floor if it is controversial, and the administration could reverse its tepid support if it is opposed by too many committee Democrats.

The House has not proposed a complementary version this year, but has handily passed similar bills in prior sessions. Sources say Commerce Chairman Bliley or House Government Reform National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee Chairman David McIntosh, R-Ind., could introduce the House version if the Senate passes a bill.

Meanwhile, the House Government Reform Committee approved its version of the Regulatory Right-to-Know Act after McIntosh, the bill's primary cosponsor, proposed an amendment to mollify some of the concerns raised in a subcommittee markup by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

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