A House Rules subcommittee chairman has proposed formation of a Select Committee on Regulatory Affairs that would have the power to monitor all federal rule-making activities.
The proposal, put together by Rep. John Moakley (D-Mass.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Rules of the House, is an effort to offer an alternative to popular proposals that would grant Congress the power to veto new rules enacted by regulatory agencies.
"In my opinion, the 'legislative veto' responds to only one facet of our regulatory problem and would be subject to the same institutional weaknesses which now prevent the Congress from addressing the salient issues involved in our regulatory processes of government," Moakley wrote.
"On the other hand, a Select Committee on Regulatory Affairs with a broad jurisdiction over the rule-making activities of the federal government, would provide Congress with a mechanism to conduct the type of oversight its compartmentalized committee system now precludes."
Moakley believes the establishment of such a select committee would allow Congress to adopt national regulatory policy where conflicting regulations set the federal apparatus off on contradictory courses.
"No longer would the Congress be required to rely on the executive for policy initiatives for managing the regulatory process," Moakley wrote.
The select committee envisioned by Moakley would be charged with determining whether an agency's regulation is arbitrary or unreasonable, duplicates or overlaps other rules, imposes a cost that is not "adequately offset by the public benefit," is beyond the agency's authority or "cannot be understood by the regulated community."
The panel, Moakley said, would be a repository for the regulatory complaints of other members of Congress, but could also investigate an agency regulation after the request of a standing committee.
Further, the select committee could report a joint resolution of disapproval. If approved by the houses of Congress, such a resolution could overturn a regulation.
Moakley's unique idea, which is now floating around Congress for comment, is bound to run into several roadblocks. For starters, many angry House members, led by Rep. Elliott Levitas (D-Ga.), are pushing for sweeping legislative veto plans.
Secondly, the select committee idea is unlikely to win the support of committee chairmen who could feel that their oversight responsibilities are being undercut.
Finally, supporters of the regulatory reform legislation currently before Congress are unlikely to support such a proposal because they are seeking institutional reforms to aid in setting up better in-house management of the regulatory process within the agencies themselves.
But the Moakley proposal is aimed at cutting that shift in regulatory power to the excutive branch. "The problems of our regulatory form of government require a legislative response, not an executive scapegoat," he wrote. "The Congress cannot afford to defer continually to the executive for coordination and initiatives in the regulatory area."
The Consumer Product Safety Commission won a major court victory recently when U.S. District Judge Louis F. Obendorfer denied a motion by the American Apparel Manufacturers Association that would have blocked the CPSC from regulating the lead paint content in children's jerseys.
The CPSC had completed an investigation of the lead content in plastisol decorations used widely as designs and numerals on childrens' outfits, primarily athletic jerseys, when the trade association filed the suit last June.
A commission official said 41 companies with the painted lettering were "on hold" awaiting the court decision.For now, it is up to the manufacturers to decide whether to correct the paint content or destroy the shirts.
The CPSC rules set a maximum lead content of .06 percent and are designed to prevent children from putting in their mouths toys and other products with quantities of lead.
If the court had upheld the association's position, the CPSC would have effectively been cut out of the business of regulating apparel containing potentially hazardous substances.
"The commission reasonably determined that plastisol decorations on children's garments are acessible to young children through picking, chewing or sucking," Oberdorfer wrote.