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GOP Weighs Voiding 45 of Clinton's Rules

Policy: Lawmakers, White House set out to overturn the last-minute regulations, ranging from energy standards to defining a child as a fetus after birth.

April 08, 2001|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — House Republicans, working with the White House, have drawn up a list of 45 federal regulations they may try to overturn, including rules that imposed stricter energy standards for air conditioners, defined a child as a fetus that is viable after birth and restricted snowmobile use in national parks.

The regulations included on the list touch nearly every major area of government policy, indicating that the GOP may pursue a broad assault on policies President Clinton enacted during his final days in office.

"This whole move toward midnight regulations is something on which Congress should send a clear message to future presidents," said Chief Deputy Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is leading the effort in the House. "The kind of things you haven't been able to do during your term, you shouldn't try to do as you're closing the door."

As soon as he took office, President Bush placed a 60-day moratorium on all Clinton administration regulations that had not taken effect, delaying many until late next month. But under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, lawmakers have more flexibility: they have 60 legislative days, a far longer period, to overturn anything short of an executive order by a majority vote. In addition, they do not have to engage in the lengthy rule-making process agencies must undertake if they want to revise the previous administration's policies. Congress already used this power to reverse a workplace safety rule imposed by the Clinton administration.

"The clock is ticking," Blunt said.

If House Republicans want to repeal any of the targeted regulations, they can bring the matter up for an immediate vote. The Senate would then have to approve the measure, and it would go to the president's desk for his signature.

Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the review represents a growing attempt to bring accountability to the regulatory process after years of unchecked growth. His organization estimates the total regulatory budget at $700 billion a year.

"It's been an increasingly preferred form of government intervention, as budgets got tight and tax policy got more scrutinized," said Smith, whose group has been advising the administration. "They ought to get the same form of scrutiny as other forms of government intervention."

But congressional Democrats argue that the move represents an attempt by the Bush administration to dismantle some of Clinton's most popular initiatives before voters start paying attention.

"Their strategy is to move quickly, in some cases in the dead of night," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "They're hoping to do all their damage early and then hope people forget. I think they underestimate the intelligence of the American people and our determination to continue the drumbeat on these issues."

Conservative lawmakers, who were stymied for years under a Democratic administration, are moving quickly to press the White House for policy changes.

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-Pa.) is one of four abortion opponents who wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson in March to urge him to reconsider a regulation that affects human subjects in research studies. The rule, which was issued Jan. 17 and aimed at making it easier for pregnant women to participate in scientific studies, describes a child as "a fetus, after delivery, that has been determined to be viable."

Advocates of abortion rights, on the other hand, accuse their adversaries of trying to target the rule to provide new protections for the fetus at every stage of development. This could undermine stem-cell research and other scientific projects, said Elizabeth Cavendish of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Industry groups are also pushing lawmakers to revisit Clinton's policies. Air conditioner manufacturers are outraged that former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson moved an efficiency standard up a notch at the last minute after they had already agreed to a smaller increase.

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