In Voting Itself two chances to kill any future gas-retioning plan, the House last week went twice as far as usual -- but on a well-trodden track. Provisions for vetoes of regulations, by one house of Congress or both, are being tucked onto all sorts of bills these days. It's one reflection of Congress' fragmented, disgruntled state. The lawmakers have great trouble agreeing on what agencies should do, but various factions know what they don't like. Squelching and second-guessing regulations is an easy way to bring controversial agencies to heel. The one-house veto even allows a Senate or House maority to impose its will without having to reach accord with the other house.
Besides standing the legislature process on its head, the veto undermines all the efforts over the years to make regulatory processes open, fair and somewhat insulated from day-to-day political pressures. For instance, a great number of business groups have been lobbying hard in the Senate for a leguslative veto over the Federal Trade Commission's rules. (The House has already agreed.) If such a law is passed, you can be sure that the same group will be constantly appealing to one house or the other to reject FTC rules that they oppose. And the results could turn less on the merits of each issue than on the influence of contending lobbies and legislators, or even on the mood of the House or Senate on a given day.
That is no way to make regulation more consistent and sensible. It is a formula for more governmental confusion and delay and congressional irresponsibility. Congress already has enough techniques for curbing agencies that act rashly or seriously exceed their statutory authority. And it already spends too much time carping at regulators and taking them to task for their handling of problems that Congress has bucked. Instead of spinning further down this path, the legislators should concentrate on pulling themselves together, reaching more agreement among themselves on larger issues of regulation, and giving better overall direction to the agencies.