A House Judiciary subcommittee, prompted in part by a last-minute telephone call from President Carter to a key panel member, yesterday defeated a sweeping legislative veto proposal and passed a major regulatory reform bill.
Carter's call to Rep. William J. Hughes (D-N.J.) convinced Hughes to provide the key vote in a 5-to-4 defeat of a provision that would have enabled one house of Congress to veto major agency regulations.
Carter administration officials hailed the vote by the subcommittee, which is headed by Rep. George Danielson (D-Calif.) Passage of the bill yesterday is considered the first step in what ultimately could be the most comprehensive revision of the regulatory process since Congress passed the Administrative Procedures Act in 1946.
The bill in many ways expands to independent regulatory agencies provisions of Carter's Executive Order 12044 which forces Executive Branch agencies to analyze the costs of new rules and publish an agenda of important new regulations under consideration.
The bill expands regulatory analysis to independent agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission. They would have to prepare a detailed analysis of the projected costs and benefits of new rules.
The bill also is designed to cut regulatory delay, it limits rulemaking or other regulatory proceeding to a fixed period of 180 days, with provisions to extend that if more time is needed.
The administration suffered a major defeat when the subcommittee voted recently to cut $20 million in public-participation funds in the bill to $5 million and limit those funds to agencies that already have such funding programs in place. The funds would be used to pay the expenses of private groups that want to intervene in regulatory proceedings.
The cutting of that public-participation fund, monies that are considered vital to winning the support of consumer and environmental groups, for example, leaves representatives of those organizations uncertain about subsequent support for the bill.
But the administration also scored two major victories during the subcommittee's mark-up of the bill, defeating by a 7-to-2 vote a proposal that would have expanded judicial review of regulations.
The vote on the legislative veto provision was considered even more important to the administration's hopes to put together a workable coalition behind the bill.Hughes was considered the key vote on a deadlocked panel, and the call from Carter Apparently convinced Hughes that the president would veto the bill if the legislative-veto provision were included, sources said.
A spokesman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the bill "probably has more going for it than any of the other regulatory reform bills" before Congress.
But the spokesman, like a representative of a major consumer group, pointed out that many of the key provisions of the bill would be attacked before the full Judicary Committee, which is not expected to take up the bill until May.
The Senate Government Affairs Committee is considering both the Carter bill and another sponsored by Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.), the committee's chairman.