A Senate committee voted yesterday to limit the regulatory powers of the Office of Management and Budget as Democratic members stepped up their criticism of the Reagan administration's handling of its regulatory program.
Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), ranking minority member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, charged that the Reagan administration's support for provisions of regulatory reform legislation now being considered by the committee indicates that the White House is trying to grab more power than any administration in recent times.
"For an administration that talks about getting government off the people's backs, this administration is seeking to acquire more than Franklin Roosevelt . . . more power than Lyndon Johnson," Eagleton charged in endorsing a proposal to limit executive branch authority over independent regulatory agencies.
The proposal adopted by voice vote by the panel and prepared by committee member Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) forces the White House to review new regulations within 120 days and limits the oversight authority to executive branch agencies such as Cabinet-level departments, specifically barring White House involvement in rulemaking at independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission.
The Glenn amendment, opposed in principle by the administration, was added to the Regulatory Reform Act, legislation designed to put most pieces of the administration's executive order giving the White House the power through OMB to monitor new regulations before they become law. In fact, OMB has told Congress that it has held up 55 rules from agencies since Reagan issued the order earlier this year.
The committee also approved an amendment offered by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), another critic of the OMB process, designed to open up the budget agency's review process to public scrutiny. Levin's proposal would require public disclosure of both an agency's regulations before they have gone to OMB for consideration and OMB's comments on a particular rulemaking. In addition, OMB officials would be required to disclose any contacts with outside parties that influence their decisions.
The bill already has been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is being considered by the Governmental Affairs Committee. If that committee passes the bill, as is expected today, the two committees will have to either work out their differences before the bill goes to the floor or have the full Senate make such decisions by voting on amendments from Governmental Affairs Committee members.
The Glenn amemdment was particularly significant because it goes to the center of a growing debate about White House control over the so-called independent agencies, departments designed to be arms of Congress and not as vulnerable to political changes as Cabinet departments.
Under the bill passed recently by the Judiciary Committee, the president could establish monitoring procedures for all agencies. The guidelines for submitting rules for evaluation to the OMB in the Reagan executive order apply only to executive branch agencies.