House panel advances GOP-backed regulatory reform bill

The legislation would require all federal agencies to study “indirect” costs of new rules to small businesses.

It also would subject all agencies to scrutiny from small business review panels whose reach is currently limited to rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

“The bill will ensure that agencies genuinely scrutinize the impacts of their actions on small businesses by requiring them to look at both direct and indirect effects,” said Rep. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesLawmakers left with more questions than answers on Trump infrastructure plan Five obstacles to Trump's infrastructure ambitions White House still eyeing gas tax hike to pay for infrastructure plan MORE (R-Mo.)

Democrats on the committee cast the legislation as a clumsy attempt to grind the regulatory process to a halt.

“We should be clear – this legislation will not accomplish that goal,” said Rep. Nydia Velasquez (N.Y.), the panel’s top Democrat. “What it will do is make the process more confusing and difficult for small companies to comply.”

In a reversal of traditional roles, Democrats argued that the GOP bill would effectively increase the size and scope of government by bolstering the regulatory review apparatus.

The Congressional Budget Office has determined that the bill would cost the federal government $45 million over the next five years.

Velasquez said the legislation, if enacted, could duplicate President Obama’s initiative to review new and existing regulations in search of overly burdensome or unnecessary rules.

The endeavor itself would be a burden to agencies already struggling to operate under sequestration-related budget cuts, she said.

Democrats penned 16 of 19 amendments that were offered to the bill, including measures to include regulations enacted because of trade agreements to increased scrutiny and exempts rules in cases when delays could harm kids.

“Our children’s safety and health should never be second to the bottom line of any business,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) who introduced that amendment.

The amendment failed, with Republicans arguing that there are other statutory exemptions that allow exemptions when public safety is threatened.

But Democrats, including Velasquez and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), repeatedly complained that Republicans were summarily rejecting “common-sense” amendments.

Ultimately, just four of the Democratic amendments were adopted, with their sponsors demanding roll call votes on several.

But Democrats called for no such tally on the vote to advance the legislation for consideration by the full House.

Asked why, Velasquez said, “Sometimes you make a strategic decision not to call for a vote.”

Even if passed by the House, the legislation faces a difficult road forward.

A similar bill passed the House last Congress, but failed to gain traction in the Senate. President Obama pledged to veto that measure if it ever came to his desk.

Public interest organizations, including the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards also oppose the bill, calling it a thinly veiled handout to industry.

“This bill has nothing to do with responding to real small business concerns and everything to do with advancing the Big Business anti-regulation agenda,” said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman, a co-chairman of the coalition.