The senate Judiciary Committee passed a regulatory reform bill yesterday, overcoming last-minute efforts by the Carter administration to block a hotly disputed proposal that would establish a board to oversee all federal regulation.
In what was viewed as an important indication of congressional sentiment, the committee also defeated by 7 to 2 a plan that would have allowed the House and Senate, with presidential approval, to block enactment of agency regulations.
Nevertheless, unanimous passage of the bill sets up potentially difficult negotiations with the Senate Govermental Affairs Committee, which recently passed another regulatory bill.
The Judiciary Committee version of the legislation contains several key and controversial provisions including one to establish the Regulatory Policy Board.
Objectons to establishment of that board came from high-level officials of the Office of Management and Budget who currently oversee federal regulatory policy.
While not directly involved in the last-minute efforts to have the policy board provision removed from the bill, White House officials, have vigorously opposed the plan, arguing that the OMB is capable of handling the Executive Branch oversight function.
The board would be composed of the OMB director, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, the attorney general, the chairman of the Administrative Conference, two Executive Branch agency heads and one chief of an independent regulatory entity.
Other provisions of the Judiciary Committee package are:
A regulatory flexibility measure that calls on agencies to prepare detailed analyses of new rules on small business, small organizations and local governments.
A "high noon" provision that sets up a 10-year cycle for a major review of an agency by the newly created board and the president.
In additon, the Judiciary Committee yesterday adopted two other potentially controversial provisions. One would remove many challenges to new regulations from courts located in Washington and funnel them to courts near the locale where the regulation would have its greatest effect.
The committee also adopted a controversial measure that would allow for stricter review of new regulations by federal courts. These measures and the creation of the board are opposed by the Carter administration.
The Judiciary Committee package evolved out of many months of deliberations among Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the committee chairman, John Culver (D-Iowa) and Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.).
But the future of much of the bill -- most of which has the backing of major business lobbying groups -- is clouded by the differences between it and the bill passed by the Governmental Affairs panel. That committee's proposal is considerably closer to a regulatory reform plan proposed by the administration.
On the other hand, the judicial review amendment in particular is opposed vehemently by consumer and environmental groups. Further, the Governmental Affairs bill calls for allocating funds to support groups hoping to intervene in regulatory matters. The Judiciary Committee bill has no such measure, limiting its chances for support by consumer activists.
Although committee sources said they hope the differences could be resolved through negotiation, the Judiciary Committee's commitment to the Regulatory Policy Board proposal, among other things, ultimately could send the possible rift to the Senate floor for resolution.
In a statement, Culver called the bill "tough, responsible and comprehensive" and said it could "eliminate needlessly costly duplicative and unnecessary rules without jeopardizing those regulations which protect the public and safeguard American's environment."
In a separate statement, Kennedy emphasized the importance of the "high noon" provision, noting that the "best way to accomplish meaningful regulatory reform is to take a fresh look at our regulatory process, agency by agency, program by program."
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee is in the midst of voting on regulatory reform legislation. Final House action, however, is at least a week away.
The legislation is condered important not only because it would be the most significant change in the regulatory process since 1946, but also because both the administration and key Senate members see it as a means to claim that they are attacking the frequently repeated cries of overregulation from the business community.