January 12, 2017 / 3:58 AM / 7 months ago

Republicans pass sweeping bill to reform 'abusive' U.S. regulation

The U.S. Capitol Building is lit at sunset in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2016.Joshua Roberts/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans on Wednesday passed a bill in the House of Representatives that touched on nearly every step U.S. agencies take in creating and applying new rules, continuing their blitz to radically reform "abusive" federal regulation of areas from the environment to the workplace.

In a 238-183 vote, the House passed the "Regulatory Accountability Act," which combined eight bills aimed at changing how the vast government bureaucracy runs. Only five Democrats voted for it.

The legislation would give President-elect Donald Trump tools "to wipe out abusive regulation," said Bob Goodlatte, the Judiciary Committee chairman who is among the many House leaders calling for lighter regulation and saying the costs to comply with federal rules are too high.

Republicans say there is little accountability for regulations that apply to almost every aspect of American life because they are created by appointed officials and not elected representatives. Federal agencies operate either independently or under the president's authority.

The current reform push is part of Trump's campaign promise to "drain the swamp," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Wednesday.

As House Republicans push for reform - last week they passed bills requiring Congressional approval of major rules and giving Congress power to kill dozens of recently enacted ones - Democrats are fighting back.

Democrats have said the many extra procedures required by the reform bills would stall agencies' work, making it impossible to create needed regulations on the environment, financial markets and other areas. Democrats contend that slowing down rulemaking is intended to help big businesses escape oversight.

The accountability act would jeopardize the government's capability "to safeguard public health and safety, the environment, workplace safety and consumer financial protections," the Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, John Conyers, said before the vote. 

"Worse yet, many of these new requirements are intended to facilitate the ability of regulated entities - such as well-funded corporate interests - to intervene and derail regulatory protections they oppose," Conyers said.

Specifically, the bill would require agencies to post more detailed information on proposals for an extended period of time, limit judge's interpretations in legal challenges, and require agencies to enact the lowest-cost version of a rule.

The House is expected to vote on Thursday on changes to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the major securities and derivatives regulators.

Still, none of these bills may become law, as Democrats hold enough seats in the Senate to filibuster.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Leslie Adler and Andrew Hay

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