Senate panel OKs reg reform bill

For the second time in two years, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee late Thursday approved a regulatory reform bill to require agencies to perform cost-benefit analyses on regulations costing more than $100 million.

Governmental Affairs Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., held an impromptu vote on the Regulatory Improvement Act while the full Senate debated the juvenile justice bill late Thursday. In an earlier markup session-adjourned before the vote-Republicans turned away eight amendments to soften the bill offered by Governmental Affairs ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Democratic Sens. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey and Max Cleland of Georgia. But Thompson secured the votes of Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, a cosponsor of the bill, and Cleland to win an 11-5 vote.

However, the strong opposition of Democrats during the markup may convince Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., that the bill is too controversial to bring to the floor. Lott has vowed not to call up the bill if it will tie up the Senate.

A Lieberman spokeswoman said Democrats could offer up to "three times" more amendments than they did in committee when the bill reaches the floor.

The Thompson-Levin effort is the third Senate attempt to pass a regulatory reform bill, beginning in the 104th Congress when then-Majority Leader Dole and Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., introduced a more contentious version. A bill nearly identical to this year's plan passed the Governmental Affairs Committee last year, but Lott did not bring it to the floor.

Democrats fear the bill will make it harder for agencies to craft health, environment and labor protection regulations-and delay their implementation-because agencies will be required to perform cost studies. They argue the rule would pressure agencies to approve weak regulations because the bill requires them to estimate the intangible monetary benefits of all regulations under consideration-and justify a decision to implement a rule that does not have the best cost-benefit ratio.

Republicans argue the bill does not force the agencies to weaken standards, but merely requires them to be held accountable for their choices.

At the markup, Thompson ran out of time before bringing up the Regulatory Right-to-Know Act. The bill, cosponsored by Thompson and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., would require the Office of Management and Budget to perform an annual accounting of the private sector costs of all government regulations. Many Democrats oppose the bill because they fear it would be used for political purposes to scale back regulations.

Republicans say the bill will force agencies to consider the private-sector costs of regulations. Thompson has not scheduled a new markup date.

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