The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, in what appears to be a major victory for business critics of federal regulation, yesterday passed legislation to give Congress veto power over major government rules.
The 11-to-4 vote, which included Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) among the supporters, comes from a committee that has historically opposed legislative veto proposals and represents the first time a Senate committee has ever backed a government-wide veto measure.
In fact, the committee three years ago voted 13 to 0 to endorse a regulatory reform study which sharply criticized the entire concept.
"Although the legislative veto may be appropriate in limited situations, Congress should reject an across-the-board use of the legislative veto for regulatory agency rules," the committee said in February 1977 when it approved the report.
Nevertheless, reflecting a growing congressional dissatisfaction with federal agency performance, the committee yesterday approved a bill proposed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and David Boren (R-Okla.) that would cover new regulations with an economic impact of $100 million or more.
"We are seeing a shift in the Senate that grows out of public dissatisfaction with bureaucracy that is too often arrogant and unmindful of the intents of Congress," Levin said in a statement.
"Legislative veto should not be a liberal-conservative issue. The issue is whether a federal agency will be allowed to thwart the will of Congress when it administers the progams Congress establishes."
The Levin-Boren bill gives the appropriate congressional oversight committees the authority to stop a regulation from implementation within 20 days of publication. After committee action, Congress has 60 days to consider the veto, under the plan.
If both houses pass a resolution vetoing the rule, it would then go to the White House, although Congress could override a presidential veto of the resolution.
Passage of the Levin-Boren plan comes at a time critical in congressional consideration of regulatory reform legislation. Most likely, the legislative veto proposal would become an amendment to regulatory reform legislation on the Senate floor.
Although the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected a legislative veto proposal Wednesday, that vote only came after an agreement by several key committee members to avoid making legislative veto a key issue in the forum.
Both the Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committees have passed regulatory reform legislation. Negotiations to settle the significant differences between the two bills are expected to begin soon so that the legislation can then be sent to the full Senate.
It is expected that many consumer and environmental group leaders, among others, will mount a major fight against the legislative veto proposal. Opponents say the scheme would only encourage interest groups, particularly businesses, to seek relief on Capitol Hill after regulatory agency losses.
The Carter administration, which is essentially opposed to such veto provisions of all kinds, actively attempted to defeat the Levin-Boren measure. Administration sources say that if a sweeping veto provision is attached to regulatory reform legislation, President Carter might be forced to veto such a bill.