Pending Regs

Heitkamp breaks with Dems on regulations

Greg Nash


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is breaking with her party to push for a top conservative issue: regulatory reform.

The North Dakota Democrat up for reelection next year in a state easily won by President Trump has teamed up with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on a proposal to reform the rulemaking process and force federal agencies to chose the “most cost-effective” ways to regulate.

{mosads}Heitkamp hasn’t decided if she’s running for reelection in 2018, nor does she have a challenger so far.

Either way, she’s setting herself up as independent from Democrats on issues that could help her back home.

“This isn’t new,” she said about her decision to work with Portman. “This is a culmination of work that I started when I got here. To say, ‘Oh, now she’s just jumping because Trump’s president,’ that doesn’t explain the last four years of work.”

Before she became the state’s first female senator in 2013, Heitkamp served as North Dakota’s attorney general and, before that, was the state’s tax commissioner.

“I’ve held elected office in North Dakota for 18 years,” she said. “So I think I have a pretty good idea of who my constituents are and what their concerns are.”

According to the Senator Approval Rankings released in April by Morning Consult, Heitkamp ranked 17th out of 100 senators, with 60 percent approval from her home-state voters.

Heitkamp’s push for regulatory reform is winning cheers from businesses in her state.

“As an energy-producing state, we are affected by regulations, plain and simple,” Andy Peterson, president and CEO of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, told The Hill. “Sen. Heitkamp has picked up on that and has tried to understand and respond to it.”

“Whenever you get a Republican sensitive to a typically Democratic issue or a Democrat sensitive to what’s normally a Republican issue, I think it makes lawmaking easier,” he added. 

Heitkamp doesn’t like it when people refer to her as “vulnerable” in 2018.

“I think I’m here because people know I mean what I say and try to do what I say,” she said. “And I said, look, I think we need to have a discussion about unnecessary and un-needed regulations in the U.S., but recognizing we should not be jeopardizing public health and safety.”

Heitkamp and Portman’s bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, creates new hurdles for regulators before issuing major rules that are estimated to cost the economy $100 million or more.  

In addition to using cost benefit analysis to choose the most “cost-effective” option, agencies would be forced to hold trial-like hearings with impacted parties, review major rules at least once every 10 years and demonstrate they have used the best science possible when issuing proposed and final rules. It also gives judges more power to block rules opposed by industry. 

A provision in the bill known as the “savings clause” does allow an agency to skip requirements that conflict with federal laws like the Clean Air Act, which authorizes regulations.

But opponents of the bill argue it will lead to a flood of litigation.

James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform, claims the bill will add up to 53 requirements to an already cumbersome rulemaking process and open the door for industry to defeat rules.

“This will have a fundamental impact on how agencies do their business,” he said. “Every rulemaking an agency does will be affected in countless ways by this bill.”

Heitkamp isn’t the only Democrat backing the bill. She’s been joined by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is also a top GOP target in 2018.

If all of the Senate’s Republicans back the bill, another six Democratic votes will need to be found to get it through the Senate.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has been critical of past regulatory reform proposals, said there are parts of the bill he supports.

“The Administrative Procedure Act has been the law of the land for some time,” he said. “I’ve never written a law that was perfect, and I’ve been here for a while and my guess is the Administrative Procedure Act, as good as it is, is not perfect and it’s not written in stone. Can it be improved? Probably.”

Carper, however, said he wants to make sure regulators price both the cost and benefits of regulations realistically.

“Heidi is very creative, very thoughtful,” he said. “She understands that one of the keys to job creation in this country is to have common-sense regulations.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said Republicans need more Democrats like Heitkamp to reach across the aisle.

“When you have a regulatory impact on the economy of $1.9 trillion, we all should be focused on regulatory reform, so any opportunity we get to work together on those issues is a positive sign,” he said.

“It’s not just regulatory reform in terms of the regulations in existence now; it’s a matter of how we fix it in the future, which means we’re going to have to have some sort of rules-review process.”

Regulatory reform is not the only issue Heitkamp is working on. She’s also been working to extend tax credits for carbon dioxide sequestration to bring new technology to coal generation and on efforts to combat human and sex trafficking.

There was speculation late last year that Heitkamp was considering a position in the Trump administration after she met with the then-president-elect. In a statement following the meeting, she said she and Trump had a “thoughtful and wide ranging discussion on a variety of issues important to North Dakota and the country.”

Heitkamp met with Trump again in February with a small group of senators. In a release following that meeting, she said Trump agreed with her on the need to get the Export-Import Bank up and running, but in April Trump nominated Scott Garrett to lead the institution as its president. Garrett publicly criticized the bank in 2015, according to a CNN report.

Tags Heidi Heitkamp Joe Manchin Rob Portman Scott Garrett Tom Carper

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