House vote attacks unfunded mandates

The House passed legislation Friday aimed at protecting state governments and the private sector against unfunded federal mandates.

Members passed the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act in a 234-176 vote; Republicans were joined by 17 Democrats. The vote caps off a week in which the House passed several other bills to rein in federal regulations and the IRS.

ADVERTISEMENT
But like some of those other bills, the White House said President Obama would veto the unfunded mandates legislation. That veto threat and broader opposition by Democrats will likely lead to a quiet death for the bill in the Democratic Senate.

The bill, H.R. 899, would expand on the 1995 Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA), which was meant to stop the government from passing laws and issuing rules that foisted huge costs on the states and the private sector. It would also ensure all federal agencies are covered by the law, and force agencies to ensure that the lowest-cost rules are adopted.

The legislation requires agencies to include in regulatory costs the expected forgone profits of companies, costs passed on to consumers, and even costs related to behavioral changes caused by the rule. Additionally, it would require agencies to consult with private sector before issuing rules, and let courts block rules that aren't developed transparently.

Republicans said these changes are needed because federal rules are hurting job growth, an argument the GOP has continually made during the Obama administration.

"UMRA's limited coverage is a concern, because … unfunded mandates and regulations continually stifle private-sector growth and economic expansion," Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) went further by saying federal rules are essentially federal laws that are often written without enough input.

"The American people know … that a regulation is a law, a rule is a law," he said on the House floor. "The idea that laws are produced in private, with often special interest groups on one side only at the table, and then put out as a take-it-or-leave-it, fight it if you can [proposition], is the absurdity of the regulatory state."

House Democrats argued that the bill goes too far, and would make it harder for agencies to write rules that are meant to help people.

"This legislation may be well intended, but it would have unintended consequences that would make government less efficient and less effective," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of Issa's committee.

"Now is not the time for us to be adding unnecessary and burdensome requirements to the rulemaking process," he added. "Our constituents expect us make them safer, not to make it harder for agencies to keep them safe."

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who's also on the committee, said the bill is a sweetheart deal Republicans are trying to give to companies.

"It would shackle key federal agencies, like OSHA, the FCC, the Mine Safety Administration and the CFPB," Clay said.

"This bill is not a job creator. It is a gift-wrapped offering to special interest lobbyists who advocate for no new rules, no regulations and no consequences for their clients, regardless of how much damage they cause."

In its veto threat, the White House agreed that the bill would make it too difficult for federal regulators to regulate, especially because of the prospect of judicial review of federal rules.

"H.R. 899 would unnecessarily add to the already robust analytical and procedural requirements of the rulemaking process," the White House said. "In particular, H.R. 899 would create needless grounds for judicial review, unduly slowing the regulatory process."

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who sponsored the bill, countered earlier in the debate that her bill was co-sponsored by three Democrats, which shows the bipartisan reach of the bill. Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), and Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) co-sponsored the bill.

Before the final vote, the House turned away three Democratic amendments to the bill, from:

— Elijah Cummings (Md.), striking language requiring independent agencies to comply with UMRA. Failed 185-224.

— Gerry Connolly (Va.), requiring agencies to consult with public interest groups and others, along with the private sector, while considering rules. Failed 194-216.

— Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), excluding rules from the law's requirements when agencies can show their benefits outweigh their costs. Failed 180-232.