Spending bill halts Obama regulations

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The trillion-dollar spending legislation set to pass the House on Wednesday is chock full of language designed to tamp down on Obama administration regulations. 

The 1,500-plus page omnibus spending bill contains provisions to constrict rule-making at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and would block a wide array of regulations at agencies across the federal bureaucracy. 

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The legislation takes aim at light bulb standards, restrictions on gun exports and a proposal to allow electronic voting in union elections. It would block regulators from enforcing both workplace regulations on family farms and a rule facing poultry producers, among a host of other regulations. 

Taken together, the provisions amount to a victory for House Republicans, who have railed against President Obama’s regulatory policies as bad for business and for the economy.

However, proposals for stronger regulatory rollbacks, including language that would have blocked EPA power plant emission rules crucial to Obama’s climate change initiative, were left out of the bill. 

Still, public interest groups criticized the inclusion of anti-regulatory provisions they said would not pass muster on the merits. 

“It’s not surprising to see the House try to enact their wish list gutting public health and safety protections through backroom dealings and anti-democratic channels, since their agenda is fundamentally unpopular with the public and has no chance of passage through transparent and democratic means,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at the nonprofit group Public Citizen. 

House Republicans, meanwhile, characterized the bill as a careful compromise reached with Senate negotiators. 

The bill, authorizing roughly $1.012 trillion in spending, fleshes out the budget deal struck late last year by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

 “The bill reflects careful decisions to realign the nation’s funding priorities and target precious tax dollars to important programs where they are needed the most,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a statement. 

 The spending legislation contains numerous provisions Republicans said would curb Obama’s “regulatory overreach” on energy and environmental issues. The EPA, among the most maligned federal agencies in GOP circles, would see a $143 million budget cut. 

The bill rejects the president’s request for $72 million to fund regulatory programs at the EPA. That includes $31 million for regulatory work in support of Obama’s global warming push, $18 million for the agency’s regulatory development office, and $23 million for EPA water regulatory programs. 

 Under the legislation, the Obama administration would be required to issue a report to Congress detailing all expenditures on programs aimed at combating the effects of climate change. 

The bill rejects proposals to impose new fees on onshore oil and gas producers, and extends review periods for drilling leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. 

And while the legislation wouldn’t block the coming emissions standards for existing and new power plants, it would exempt livestock producers from greenhouse gas regulations.

The measure would also halt the government’s plan to cut financing for overseas power plants that don’t curb carbon emissions. 

Language in the omnibus prohibits the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and Export-Import Bank from blocking any coal-fired projects “that increase the export of U.S. goods or services or prevent the loss of U.S. jobs.” 

In the financial arena, the bill would give the SEC a modest 1.8 percent budget increase next year but would add new restrictions on the regulator’s rule-making authority. Specifically, it would dedicate $44 million to bolstering the use of economic analysis in regulatory decisions. 

The provision is meant to push the agency to focus more on the cost of new rules in order to justify opposition to tighter regulation, said Narang. 

“It’s a pretty naked power grab,” he said. 

The measure voiding the Obama administration’s contentious light bulb efficiency standard gives another win to Republicans, who derided the 2007 ban on incandescent bulbs as the product of a nanny state. 

GOP lawmakers have also assailed the Labor Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for enforcing workplace safety regulations on family farms. 

For decades, Congress has inserted language in spending bills prohibiting OSHA from enforcing provisions of the 1976 Occupational Safety and Health Act at farming operations with 10 or fewer employees.

But the agency has begun issuing thousands of dollars in fines under the statute saying that it has jurisdiction over non-farming operations, including grain storage, on farms. 

“This issue is about more than just agriculture,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said. “It’s about this administration’s endless pursuit of a growing regulatory agenda, regardless of the limits that have been set into law.” 

The bill unveiled Monday contains language designed to protect small farms from OSHA enforcement. 

It also blocks implementation of a contentious Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule involving contracts for livestock and poultry producers.

 The rule is meant to give new protections to small poultry and hog producers in their dealings with meat processors, though critics say it amounts to government interference in the marketplace.  

The National Labor Relations Board, another GOP target, would take a $4 million budget cut under the spending bill, which also contains language prohibiting the implementation of “e-Card Check.” 

Sought by labor organizations, the regulations would allow electronic voting in union elections. In a fact sheet detailing the bill, Republicans argue e-Card Check “could promote coercion in union elections.”

The bill contains multiple provisions inserted in an effort to protect Second Amendment rights, including prohibitions to certain restrictions for exporting or importing firearms. 

The section of the bill covering the Department of Health and Human Services includes language stating, “none of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.” 

Democrats say the package contains some $257 million to curb gun violence. The total includes $75 million for a new school safety program and $42 million to shore up the porous National Instant Criminal Background Check System with additional mental health records from states. 

The bill contains an additional $10 million to train local police to respond to active shooters.