Nearly two dozen House committee and subcommittee chairmen lined up yesterday to oppose comprehensive regulatory reform legislation heartily endorsed by the business community.
Led by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill's opponents charged that the legislation would not improve federal rule-making but rather harm it by creating further delays and giving a small group of people an unfair advantage in getting heard during the process.
The charges were made in a House Rules Committee hearing on whether the measure, crafted by business groups and officials in the House speaker's office during the past several months, should go to a full House vote.
The committee adjourned to consider more pressing business -- the constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget -- without hearing all the measure's opponents or deciding the bill's course.
Business groups -- particularly the Business Roundtable, which represents the nation's largest corporations -- have been pressing Congress vigorously for the past four years to enact legislation to make it harder for regulators to issue rules and easier for the White House, Congress and the courts to challenge those that are issued.
The Senate passed such legislation last March, and business groups had hoped that they could persuade the House to do the same before Congress adjourns this fall.
Business groups had all but given up earlier this year after House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and several committee chairmen expressed strong reservations about the measure. Among their concerns was that the legislation would interfere with the traditional independence of agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
After negotiations among aides in the speaker's office, business lobbyists, Senate staff members and staff officials of the House Judiciary Committee, which had already approved a regulatory reform bill, a compromise emerged.
Dingell and other committee chairmen, however, continued yesterday to express concern that the measure would still hurt the independence of the agencies, would delay the issuance of needed rules and would give the White House unfair influence over proposed rules -- without public knowledge.
Additionally, the measure's opponents criticized the way the legislation was worked out in private -- without any public discussion of some of the critical issues.
As a result, Dingell asked the Rules Committee to return the legislation to the appropriate committees for review instead of sending it on to the House floor -- a move that was opposed by Rep. Sam Hall (D-Tex.), chairman of the subcommittee that drew up the measure.