The House voted last night to impose strict curbs on the rulemaking authority of the first regulatory agency to come before it since the Supreme Court's decision last week invalidating the use of legislative vetoes.
Admittedly casting about for new ways to check the authority Congress has delegated to executive branch agencies, House members approved two sets of restrictions for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It will be up to House-Senate conferees to pick the method they like best.
The most sweeping proposal would strip the 10-year-old agency of independent rulemaking powers and require approval of both houses of Congress, as well as the president, before any major new CPSC regulation could go into effect.
The amendment was offered by Rep. Elliott Levitas (D-Ga.), who told the House that this was just "the first of many, perhaps hundreds, of occasions when we are going to have to restructure the balance" of power that was torn apart by the high court's decision.
Another, somewhat conflicting, approach was proposed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over the CPSC. He urged the House to settle for a limited system of review whereby Congress would have 90 days to pass a resolution of disapproval--which the president would also have to sign--before any proposed CPSC rule could become effective.
Both sets of restrictions were approved on voice vote after Levitas suggested that House-Senate conferees considering the CPSC legislation could decide which one is preferable. The two approaches were tacked on as amendments to a three-year CPSC authorization bill that the House approved, 238 to 137.
The authorization vote was also a setback for Waxman and the Commerce Committee majority, which reported out a five-year authorization bill, starting at $47 million in fiscal 1984, for the embattled consumer protectiona agency.
Instead, the House adopted a three-year bill supported by the Reagan administration that would give the CPSC $35.7 million in fiscal 1984 and 5 percent increases in the two years after that.
The CPSC is an independent agency set up in 1973 to guard against hazardous products. Its authority to issue product safety standards, regulations concerning hazardous substances and flammability standards has been subject to legislative veto in the past.
Levitas contended that his approach would work best for the CPSC, though perhaps not for other agencies, because it has not issued many major rules and it would not be a major burden for Congress to review them.
Without some such actions in light of the court's decision, Levitas argued, Congress will have "turned over the whole ball game to unelected officials who have never suffered the inconvenience of running for public office."
Waxman maintained that the Georgian's sweeping prescription could lead to "interminable delays" before needed regulations are implemented. The California Democrat said his approach would allow Congress to focus instead on "those that are truly controversial," while other rules take effect simply through inaction.
The Levitas amendment, Waxman protested, "turns the CPSC into little more than a study commission" for an already overburdened Congress.
The chairman of the full House Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), was more outspoken, protesting that Levitas's approach was "bad . . . ill-timed" and of uncertain constitutionality. In any case, Dingell feared, it could play havoc with the traditional rights of aggrieved parties to challenge federal regulations in the courts. He said those rights might be lost if Congress enacted what amounts to a separate law embodying each regulation.
With thousands of pages of federal regulations to review each year, Dingell warned, "Congress will be so overloaded with trivia that we will be incapable of carrying out our essential functions."
Levitas said he had already sounded out Justice Department officials, who assured him that his amendment was "constitutionally consistent" with the Supreme Court's decision. He indicated he would favor other approaches for agencies that churn out more regulations, but he contended that Congress could not afford "to let the genie out of the bottle" for any agency previously subject to legislative veto.
"All I'm trying to do is maintain the status quo between the CPSC and Congress, to maintain the rights that we had before last week," Levitas said.
Next stop for the CPSC measure is a House-Senate conference. The Senate earlier this month passed an authorization bill that did not take the Supreme Court decision into account.