Occupational Safety and Health Reporter quotes Sidney Shapiro on REINS Act

In yet another display of their commitment to re-shape the regulatory apparatus, House Republicans easily pushed through a pair of bills Dec. 1 and 2 that could hinder federal agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, from issuing new rules.

Despite a pledge from President Obama to veto the bills should they pass the Senate, opponents of the legislation continue to express concern that the measures may move forward, or at least be set up for a future vote when Republicans have the numbers in their favor.

‘‘Their angle is the next election,’’ Sidney Shapiro, a regulatory policy professor at Wake Forest University, told BNA Dec. 5. ‘‘They’re trying to position themselves as the party that’s going to revitalize the economy, and their solution is smaller government.’’ He added that if the bills are quashed by Democrats, ‘‘I think the claim is going to be, ‘Hey, public, we tried, and it was those Democrats that stopped us from making the government smaller and therefore recovering the economy.’ ’’

Bills Intended to Curb Rules

The Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 3010), which has emerged as the centerpiece Republican regulatory reform measure among the several introduced in the current session of Congress, passed the House Dec. 2 on a 253-167 vote, with support from 19 Democrats. No Republicans voted against the bill (41 OSHR 1005, 11/24/11). The bill would force agencies to weigh both direct and indirect costs—including those on industry sectors not directly regulated—when rules are at the proposed stage, allow industry groups to challenge rules in court
before they reach the final rule stage, and subject agencies to more stringent restrictions when issuing guidance documents (41 OSHR 833, 9/29/11).

A day earlier, on Dec. 1, the House passed the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (H.R. 527) on a 263-159 vote, with all Republicans and 28 Democrats voting in favor. That legislation seeks to compel agencies to consider the indirect effects of their rules and conduct more detailed assessments of their cumulative impacts. The bill also seeks to enlarge the role of the Small Business Administration’s Chief Counsel for Advocacy in the rule-making process, another business-friendly change (41 OSHR 547, 6/23/11).

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Worker Protections, defended the measures Dec. 2, saying the
Regulatory Accountability Act would bring ‘‘more transparency and accountability to the rule-making process. We need to implement regulations that protect American workers and businesses while eliminating ones that are unnecessarily burdensome and costly.’’

Walberg also said the bill would force agencies to ‘‘do a more thorough job of deciding which regulations are necessary,’’ and would ‘‘save money and create more opportunities to engage the public in the regulatory process.’’

Despite Veto Promise, Labor Reps Persist

Although the White House has said it will veto either bill if it passes the Senate—a questionable prospect in itself—labor supporters maintain they must continue to fight back
against Republican efforts to press the bills forward.

‘‘Even if the bills don’t pass, because they’re just way over the top, people [on the left] are going to say, ‘Hey, we fought that off, and everything’s OK now.’ And in fact the opposite’s true,’’ Shapiro said.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would add more than 60 new procedural and analytical requirements to the agency rulemaking process, potentially extending the time frame for finalizing a rule to as long as 12 years, he said. Similarly, Amit Narang, Public Citizen’s regulatory policy advocate, told BNA Dec. 2 that his group, along with other members of the Coalition for Sensible Safe-guards, is treating both bills as ‘‘viable threats in the Senate with realistic chances of adoption.’’ Moreover, ‘‘we can expect to have very few, if any, workplace safety standards enacted in the future [if the bills are enacted], and those that do survive the new gauntlet of regulatory procedure will be among the least effective workplace safety protections,’’ Narang said.

Bill Will Promote Accountability, Group Says

Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a Dec. 2 statement that ‘‘the principles in this legislation make the regulatory process more transparent, agencies more accountable, and regulations more cost-effective, and it is our hope that the Senate will soon follow suit.’’

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, disagreed in a Dec. 5 statement, saying the bill would ‘‘grind to a halt the rulemaking process at the core of implementing the nation’s public health, workplace safety, and environmental standards.’’

Others lamented that the discussion over regulatory reform is distracting attention from more immediate issues.

‘‘It’s unfortunate that we can’t ever seem to get to the substance of what would help make workplaces safer,’’ Dave Heidorn, government affairs director at the American Society for Safety Engineers, told BNA Dec. 5. ‘‘We can’t get to a positive discussion about real issues.’’

House Republicans planned to advance another key regulatory reform measure on Dec. 7, when the chamber was scheduled to take up the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (H.R. 10), a bill that would require Congress to approve any major regulation. That bill failed in the Senate Nov. 10 (41 OSHR 981, 11/17/11). A vote on the REINS Act occurred after press time. Sen. Olympia Snowe introduced a companion bill to H.R. 527, also known as the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (S. 1938), in the Senate on Dec. 1.

The Senate version of the Regulatory Accountability Act (S. 1606) remains in committee. No markups on either Senate bill have yet been announced.