Coming House vote on freezing regulations draws Democrats’ fire

The Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act was introduced in February by Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark. The Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act was introduced in February by Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark. AP file photo

The House is gearing up for a floor vote this week on a package of long-in-the-works bills designed to reduce regulatory red tape for businesses, prompting minority Democrats and a coalition of consumer and health groups to sound alarms.

A Republican-crafted package under consideration by the House Rules Committee Monday night comprises seven bills aimed at restricting agencies' ability to issue regulations in such areas as finance, manufacturing and the environment. Perhaps the most far-reaching is the Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act. (H.R. 4078), introduced in February by Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., and recently renamed the Red Tape Reduction and Business Job Creation Act, would prohibit federal agencies from taking any significant regulatory action until the Labor secretary reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics average of monthly unemployment rates for any quarter after the bill’s enactment is 6 percent or less.

“Bureaucrats and red tape are putting the brakes on job creators who want to invest and grow their businesses,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a July 19 hearing on the topic. “A recent Gallup poll found that nearly half of small businesses are not hiring because they are ‘worried about new government regulations.’ ”

To draw attention to the pending vote, three Democratic House members on Monday joined reporters on a conference call convened by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, an alliance of consumer and health organizations, small businesses, scientific and environmental groups, unions and policy research groups such as OMB Watch.

“Sadly, the Republicans are trying to shut down the regulatory process that protects the health and safety of hundreds of millions of Americans,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House oversight panel. “This goes to the heart and essence of life as we know it in America.”

Cummings said Republican arguments that regulations kill jobs have been “widely discredited” by economists of all stripes, and he cited surveys showing that most small businesses do not consider over-regulation to be a serious problem.

Asked whether Republicans have credited the ongoing efforts of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to identify and curb obsolete and burdensome regulations, Cummings said no. He accused Issa of “focusing 99 percent on what he wants to hear,” saying the chairman had sent letters to 187 businesses “he knew had problems” with regulations but ignored input from sources such as the groups in the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards. “President Obama has done more than any other president in the past 20 years” to reduce the regulatory burden, Cummings added, pointing to two executive orders.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, called the legislation “a meat-ax approach” and “an extreme proposal to repeal common-sense safeguards enacted in bipartisan manner.” He accused Republicans of thinking “only about message, not about what they’re trying to accomplish,” adding the legislation will neither cut red tape nor create jobs.

Waxman cited threats to regulations curbing dangerous mercury from power plants, providing for safe nursing homes, encouraging family planning, improving public safety communication and food safety, helping veterans with brain injuries, as well as anti-pollution rules such as those affecting tailpipe designs on cars and trucks, which “save money and reduce our dependency on foreign oil.”

He predicted the legislation would pass the House, though it is unlikely to go far in the Senate or reach the president’s desk. “It’s going to be a heck of a week in the House,” Waxman added.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., called the package of bills “the pluperfect drama of the GOP’s political paradox. They hate government, but have to run for office to prove that government doesn’t work.” Calling the Republicans “determined to dismantle the safety net for poorest Americans,” he said the letters “GOP now stand for Gut Our Protections.”

The legislation, Markey added, contains a “litany of crimes against ordinary citizens [that] is impossible to enumerate,” but has no provisions to create jobs or stimulate the economy. Rather than a balanced review of costs and benefits, Markey said, this package is a “preview of coming attractions for polluters and the insurance industry [that] sends a signal” to corporate campaign donors, who are “grinning.”

Asked by Government Executive for a response, Griffin said in an email: “Despite doubts and disbelief by some Democrats, job creators -- both big and small -- have told me that excessive and overly burdensome regulations are an obstacle to hiring more workers and growing the economy. Even President Obama has admitted that regulations have ‘stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.”

A spokesman for the House Oversight committee referred Government Executive to a statement by Obama regulatory chief Cass Sunstein who told Issa at a September 2011 hearing, “I’m especially grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, and to the committee as a whole for its constructive and important work on this issue over the past months. It’s very significant to try to get regulation in a place where it’s helpful to the economic recovery.”

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