The business community is pulling out the stops to win approval of a bill requiring federal agencies to perform cost-benefit analyses before issuing major regulations, but the legislation appears likely to be caught in a legislative logjam as the 97th Congress comes to a close.
The measure, opposed by a wide range of consumer, environmental and labor groups, along with a number of Democratic House committee chairmen, won easy approval in the Senate last year, 94-0.
Since then, however, it has become the subject of protracted, and often-controversial, negotiations in the House.
Business lobbies, with the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable leading the charge, are struggling to push the legislation through two hurdles, first the Rules Committee, and second the full House.
The regulatory reform bill, which critics call the "regulatory paralysis" bill, almost cleared the Rules Committee at the end of the regular session of Congress in October, but it was shoved aside at the last minute in deference to the balanced-budget constitutional amendment.
The bill's proponents contend it would force regulatory agencies to examine the economic consequences of decisions, and to make a public declaration of the cost of major regulatory proposals.
Opponents counter that the measure would tie regulatory agencies in knots of red tape, making the regulatory process more complex.
The issue has become more controversial because of the unusual procedures used to change the measure after it was approved by the House Judiciary Committee. Over the past four months, it has been subject to extensive tailoring during private negotiations between the staff of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), the Business Roundtable and the Reagan administration.
Angered that they were left out of the process, critics of the bill have complained bitterly that the "modified draft was developed in negotiations . . . without the participation of environmental, consumer, civil rights and labor organizations."
But O'Neill's aides, who are not enthusiastic about the bill, contend they have succeeded in modifying it along the lines sought by the public interest and labor groups, and that the private negotiations produced better legislation than when the complaining groups were directly involved.
Congressional opposition to the bill is led by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a formidable legislative tactician. In a letter to the speaker, Dingell argued that the bill "does not provide for regulatory reform, but actually for more red tape, a bureaucracy with greater power vested in the president and restriction of the independence of the regulatory agencies."
Dingell and his allies have the advantage of severe time restrictions created by the three-week long lame-duck session of Congress.
Proponents face problems not only getting the Rules Committee to act, but also getting the leadership to agree to consideration of a significant and controversial bill at a time when the agenda is crowded with appropriation measures and the new proposal to raise the gasoline tax.