House votes to overhaul federal reg process

The House on Thursday approved legislation that would force federal agencies to be more transparent about pending regulations, and make them choose regulatory alternatives that impose the smallest cost possible on companies.

The Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency Act, or the ALERRT Act, is the GOP's latest attempt to limit the impact of federal rules on the private sector. Republicans say the explosion of regulations is the chief culprit behind the lackluster job growth around the country, a message the GOP appears likely to repeat up until the November midterm elections.

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The GOP found scant support among Democrats for the idea, with just 10 Democrats supporting the bill in the 236-179 vote. The Senate is unlikely to consider it, and on Tuesday the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill.

In Wednesday's debate, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) challenged that veto threat by saying even President Obama has said "we're not there yet" in terms of job creation. Goodlatte blamed the tangle of federal rules.

"[W]hile the Obama administration's pivot to the economy has faltered, the federal bureaucracy has not wavered an instant in its imposition of new and costly regulation on our economy," Goodlatte said. He added that the unemployment rate has fallen only because millions of people have stopped looking for work.

"As long as this situation continues, Congress must stay focused on enacting reforms that will stop the losses, return America to prosperity, and return discouraged workers to the dignity of a good, full-time job," he said.

The bill, H.R. 2804, would require all agencies to report each month on the regulations they're planning, instead of reporting every six months as they are now required. Agencies that fail to meet this requirement could have their regulations challenged.

It also requires agencies to choose the least costly regulatory alternatives available, publish information about rules that result from court cases and examine rules to see how they would affect the economy.

Most Democrats opposed the bill and accused Republicans of trying to shut down all federal rules, many of which deal with health and safety.

"This bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). "It would jeopardize critical public health and safety regulatory protections and undermine the very small businesses it claims to protect."

Johnson and others said the bill would add several new procedures that would only delay rules and add cost. The White House agreed with that assessment in its veto threat.

"The bill would impose unneeded and costly analytical and procedural requirements on agencies that would prevent them from performing their statutory responsibilities," the White House said. "It would also create needless regulatory and legal uncertainty, increase costs for businesses and State, local and tribal governments, and impede common-sense protections for the American public."

On Wednesday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) disputed that by saying there is clear evidence that federal rules are hurting job creation, and said Congress needs to help companies cut through red tape. He also criticized the Obama administration for arguing previously that regulations help create government jobs.

"I doubt it is any solace to the plant worker who loses his or her job because of regulations that a new job in another sector will be created to comply with these regulations," he said.

In votes Wednesday and Thursday, members rejected all seven amendments proposed by Democrats. The House accepted four Republican amendments to the bill, from:

— Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), clarifying the meaning of "negative impact on jobs and wages" under the bill, and requiring agency heads to be aware of these negative impacts before approving a rule. Passed 249-162.

— Kevin Brady (R-Texas), requiring federal agencies to identify achievable objectives in rules, and to determine that these objectives would be met before approving rules. Passed in voice vote.

— Scott Rigell (R-Va.), requiring analyses on how a rule might hurt small company access to credit. Passed in voice vote.

— Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), making a technical correction to keep a current requirement that agencies publish annual regulatory plans, in addition to the new monthly requirement. Passed in voice vote.