Republicans target regulations in budget ‘vote-o-rama’

Several GOP amendments to the Democratic budget resolution would place new constraints on federal regulators by requiring them to make a long list of calculations before issuing new rules.

Under current law, only a select few regulations are required to undergo a cost-benefit analysis, but Republicans say that needs to change.

GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), John Barrasso (Wyo.), James Inhofe (Okla.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.) each introduced an amendment to the budget that would require more cost-benefit analysis from federal regulators.

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The Collins amendment, No. 145, would stop agencies from going around the long, wrought regulatory process by publishing informal guidance — a practice used by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Election Committee (FEC).

Often, independent agencies like the SEC and FEC write up specific ways for industry to comply with established rules.

“As a practical matter, [agencies] operate as if they are legally binding,” Collins’s office said of the guidance.

Republicans are also taking aim at rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Amendment No. 142 from Barrasso would shift $5 million in budget funds to EPA to help fund the staff and hours needed to conduct cost-benefit analysis for “all pending regulations,” according to the senator’s office.

“EPA has the ability to conduct cost-benefit analysis that considers the impact of regulations on the economy, including ripple effects of indirect job losses,” Barrasso’s office said in a statement.

The agency currently has 26 rules and proposals sitting at the White House for approval, the most of any executive federal agency. Only three of those regulations are considered economically significant, meaning they would have an impact of $100 million or more on the economy.

Inhofe's amendment, No. 174, doubles down on cost-benefit analysis and would make sure agencies include the full costs — “including indirect job losses and the negative health impacts of indirect job losses” — before enacting any new regulations.

Blunt’s amendment, No. 215, says regulators must calculate the costs of rule-making and tailor it specifically to the manufacturing industry.

Opponents say expanded cost-benefit analysis is simply a tactic for slowing down and killing valuable regulations.

“Hard numbers look compelling when you put them up against these very-hard-to-quantity values of dignity and honesty,” said Randy Rabinowitz, the director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government. “It's set up to make these regulations sound inane and wasteful, when there's a great part of society that gets a great deal of dignity out of them.”

The fate of the amendments is uncertain, but the Senate will vote on them — and more than 100 other proposals — before the Senate leaves Washington for its spring recess.

The Democratic budget is not expected to be reconciled with the House resolution, meaning none of the amendments are likely to become law, even if they are approved. Republicans hope to use the amendment process to force Democrats into tough votes.