Following a call to arms by its CEO, a key business group plotted strategy Tuesday in a long-term war to wrest power from government bureaucracy to limit what critics call out-of-control regulations.
Bill Kovacs, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on environment issues, said a conference held at the Chamber’s headquarters Tuesday was “the beginning of a series of actions” business groups plan to keep government regulators at bay.
A keynote speech by a former regulatory “czar” for then-President George W. Bush outlined the case that the regulatory system is “defective,” its playing field tilted in favor of ever-increasing power by federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Bureaucrats “rarely have business experience,” said John Graham, former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The head of OIRA, a slot now held by longtime Obama confidant and liberal law professor Cass Sunstein, is in charge of reviewing new regulations before they hold the force of law.
Graham detailed a slew of factors he said give career bureaucrats at federal agencies like EPA an advantage in pursuing strict new rules as they face-off against industry groups facing higher costs from the regulation and political reviews by the President and lawmakers in Congress.
He recalled meetings at OIRA to review contentious new proposed regulations in which three White House officials faced off against ten or more bureaucrats from federal agencies stridently seeking to protect the strict rules they had drafted.
Bureaucrats “are experienced and crafty” at getting the tough regulations finalized, he said.
However, a top environmentalist from the Natural Resources Defense Council – in attendance at a business strategy session on thwarting regulations his group supports – stood during the question and answer session to point to a number of regulations delayed for years, even decades, to cast doubt on Graham’s sketch of out-of-control regulators.
A truer picture is “regulatory dawdling,” said Dave Hawkins of NRDC.
Graham conceded that in certain cases, when political officials at the White House and heading federal agencies do not back career bureaucrats, it can make finalizing their preferred regulations more difficult.
A series of top business officials spoke after Graham to discuss potential steps Congress could take to rein in federal agencies.
On proposal, the REINS Act, would require a majority vote in the House and Senate for any major new regulation to become law.
Several officials discussed how the proposal would almost assuredly face a veto from President Obama. But former Rep. David McIntosh pointed out that another, similar effort – the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to nullify new regulations within 60 days after their finalization – obtained then-President Bill Clinton’s signature because it was tied to a vote on raising the debt ceiling.
Other ideas include doubling the staff at OIRA to increase the stringency of White House reviews of new regulations and eliminating the ability of agencies to introduce “guidance documents” that have the force of law without going through a formal rulemaking process.