The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday unanimously passed regulatory reform legislation after more than four years of study and hundreds of pages of committee reports.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.), the committee's chairman, is designed to streamline the regulatory process, establish a governmentwide mechanism for coordinating federal rules, and increase the government's capacity to fund citizen groups that wish to participate in agency proceedings.
Although a House Judiciary sub-committee passed a regulatory reform measure last week, there are significant differences between the Senate and House bills. In addition, the bill could face a tough fight on the Senate floor from advocates of the legislative veto.
Ribicoff, who is retiring from the Senate, called the bill "one of the most important pieces of legislation this committee has handled in recent years."
The bill was passed by the committee with little debate, although an intense dispute between Ribicoff and Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) over one facet of the language had been taking place behind closed doors until recently. f
Chiles had hoped to amend the bill to include a measure, opposed by the Carter administration, that would have expanded the powers of the Office of Management and Budget to monitor regulatory affairs.
As passed by the committee, the bill calls for all federal agencies to assemble a "regulatory analysis" for all new regulations that have an effect of $100 million or more on the economy.
In addittion, the bill would force agencies to set deadlines for final action on new rules and establishes on a permanent basis the regulatory council, which was put together by the Carter adminstration, to coordinate federal regulatory activity.
In what may prove to be the most controversial section of the measure, about $70 million over a four-year period was allocated to provide funds for citizen groups to testify before federal agencies. Public participation funding has been a political hot potato on Capitol Hill during the current session.
The Carter administration, which introduced its own regulatory reform measure, is eager to move such legislation through Congress this year.
Administration officials believe that passage of a sweeping regulatory package, which would amount to the most significant change in the provisions of the Administrative Practices Act since 1946, is both a way to answer the many business critics of federal regulation and also a way to avoid enactment of measures such as the legislative veto, which they say would cripple the regulatory process.