By Erik Wasson - 08/07/11 03:50 AM EDT
After focusing for months on the deficit, Republicans are preparing a ‘jobs’ pivot of their own in September by moving to roll back and limit new federal regulations.
Congressional Republicans and aides confirmed that regulations are going to be at the top of the GOP agenda next month as the party looks to counter the White House’s drive for jobs legislation addressing taxes and infrastructure.
“We've got to take a real look at what we can do in Washington, number one, to remove the regulatory burdens that are in the way of entrepreneurs and investors, so that jobs can be created again. And we have to look at policies that affect small business people and the middle class,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told CNBC.
The GOP will make a major push this fall for the REINS Act, which would require all major regulations to get a vote in Congress. Also on the short list is a bill sponsored by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and reported out of the Energy and Commerce Committee in July that requires more extensive cost-benefit analysis on regulations. Finally, there are dozens of policy riders in the appropriations bills that will target burdensome regulations.
“We are going to use every tool in our arsenal,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told The Hill.
Democrat aides are worried that the push on the appropriations policy riders, especially in the bill funding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), could lead to a government shutdown crisis at the end of September. That bill is listed by Cantor’s office as a tool for regulatory reform.
Policy riders will play a larger role in September’s 2012 spending fight compared to the April battle over 2011 funding. The top-line spending number for 2012 was set in the debt-ceiling deal at $1.043 trillion. Senate Democrats, however, are sure to reject most of the restrictions in the appropriations bills that have already passed the House.
“We really don’t know how it’s going to play out with those riders,” one Democrat appropriations aide warned.
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The House GOP has not yet settled on its endgame approach to the potential Sept. 30 showdown fight.
“We haven’t had that discussion yet,” Brady said.
Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), sponsor of the REINS ACT, said he has been told the law will come to the fore in September, though he doesn’t know if the timetable is completely set. The Judiciary Committee has held two hearings on the bill so far, but further action was put on ice as the GOP dealt with the debt ceiling.
“That kind of slowed down the train on all legislation,” Davis said Friday. “We have been working on this for two years, we are looking to it coming to the floor of the House.”
The REINS Act has 159 co-sponsors, including Democrat Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.). Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) supports the companion bill in the Senate that is sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of the REINS Act in April, and the business group has urged Congress to pass it this fall.
The Chamber is kicking off a “regulatory roadshow” on Monday in Wisconsin to ramp up support for rolling back regulations. The event will feature former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.).
Unions and consumer groups are outraged over the REINS Act and have been lobbying against it.
They say it will severely delay regulations, increase corporate influence over health and safety rules through increased lobbying and allow politics to displace science. Especially problematic for them is a provision that if Congress does not approve a regulation within 70 days, it is cancelled and cannot be considered again.
Davis said his bill is not aimed at a specific agency but at reducing what the GOP estimates is a $1.75 trillion annual cost for complying with regulations.
That figure is based on a study commissioned by the Small Business Administration in 2008 that is disputed by liberals. The Economic Policy Institute’s Isaac Shapiro said that the study was based on incomplete data and ignored entirely the benefits of legislation, such as increased working hours due to better employee health.
Davis said his bill would lead to better regulation and correct a drift over many decades toward less congressional oversight. He said especially egregious examples are EPA regulation of greenhouse gases and actions by the National Labor Relations Board to change union election rules.
In the Senate, the regulations effort is being spearheaded by John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). In a memo to colleagues, the senator estimated that in July alone, the Obama administration considered regulations that would cost more than $9.5 billion.
Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Meg O’Reilly said the statistics are inaccurate since they look at hundreds of proposed regulations that might never see the light of day.
“Counting proposed rules is outrageous because they almost always change before becoming final,” she said.
Shapiro said that EPI studies show negligible costs to the economy from Obama’s regulations but massive benefits. One study found all the major implemented environmental regulations costing only $12 billion.
He said the focus on regulations “is being used as a cover for the lack of any pro-jobs agenda coming out of conservative circles.” He said the 2007-8 financial crisis shows that more regulations are needed in finance and housing and said the BP oil spill in the Gulf shows the damage that can result to the economy from weak environmental regulations.
“I think it would be very unfortunate if they would choose to shut down the government over environmental regulations,” he added.