The House of Representatives voted Friday to freeze most new federal regulations for the rest of the year, with Republicans and Democrats arguing to the debate’s bitter end over whether the proposal would endanger the public.
The vote was 276-146, as many Democrats ultimately joined to support a bill that President Clinton has threatened to veto if the Senate passes it, saying it would “cost lives.” The outlook for the legislation in the Senate is uncertain.
Democrats were repeatedly voted down as they tried to exempt specific health and safety rules from the bill. Rep. Tom DeLay, the Republican whip from Texas and the bill’s senior author, said the amendments were aimed at “frightening women and children and the elderly.”
The bill includes an exemption for emergency health rules. But it is uncertain how many regulations could pass through that loophole.
Thousands of regulations are issued every year to carry out laws that Congress has already passed. But the new Republican majority in Congress wants the regulatory moratorium in place while it considers whether to rewrite the underlying laws governing the process of issuing rules.
The bill approved Friday is one part of a broad anti-regulatory offensive being mounted by congressional Republicans.
Monday the House is to consider a bill that would replace health considerations with economic calculations as the deciding factor in writing rules to carry out many of the nation’s existing environmental laws. Later in the week, the House will consider a bill to reimburse landowners if their property declines in value because the federal government restricts how it may be developed.
The regulations most likely to be delayed under the regulatory moratorium are those issued by agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But the bill exempts many of the regulations that lubricate the wheels of commerce, like licenses, deposit insurance and trade rules.
Democrats argued that rules to protect public health, safety and the environment should not be delayed, that some regulations beneficial to industry or to state and local governments would be caught up in the delay, and that the legislation was written so broadly that it could entangle urgent rules in litigation.
But almost every time the Democrats offered amendments to exempt health, safety or environmental rules from the bill, Republicans countered that the legislation already provided leeway for the administration to impose regulations whenever there was an “imminent threat.”
“We have fully protected health and safety,” said David M. McIntosh, a freshman Republican from Indiana who headed the effort to reduce federal regulations during the Bush administration. “This bill will allow the administration to take any precaution necessary to protect health and safety.”
xxxx “House roll call.”