HOW EASY should it be for members of Congress to bring a regulatory agency to heel? The House will take up that question again in the conference report on the Federal Trade Commission authorization bill. The legislation has been stalled all year, mainly because of House insistence on making FTC regulations subject to a legislative veto - a device that would enable either house, acting alone, to kill rules issued by the agency. The Senate and a majority of the conferees have rejected this irregular approach. We think the House should accept the conference report.
The legislative veto, in any of several forms, may sound like a handy way for Congress to rein in regulators who get too rambunctious or unreasonable. But there are many problems in this approach. It is not a all clear that Congress, having delegated rule-making authority to an agency by statute, may use procedural shortcuts to overrule the agency's use of the delegated power. And, as a practical matter, the less Congress must do to disapprove a rule, the more likely it becomes that regulations will be rejected for minor or capricious reasons or because of pressure from affected interests or powerful figures on Capitol hill.
At the Senate's insistence, the conferees have come out in the right place. In essence, they have reafirmed that Congress may nullify FTC rules by joint resolution, approved by both houses and either signed by the president or enacted by Congress over his veto. The major merit of the conference report is that it would amend the House rules to ensure that disapproval measures could come to a vote within a short time. (The Senate already has such expediting rules.) In our view, this is the soundest way to proceed. It certainly enables the Congress to deal with any FTC rules that are generally seen as seriously off the track. And it avoids the disruptions and constitutional quarrels that the one-house plans are bound to bring.
The issue is not coming to the House at the easiest time. As election day approaches, many members are bound to relish any opportunity to take another whack at "unelected bureaucrats." Moreover, the FTC has sometimes invited congressional sniping, as in its forays against advertising on television programs for children. Still, we urge the House to adopt the sensible course in the conference report.