WASHINGTON – The Republican-run House on Thursday voted to give Congress greater power to approve or reject major federal rules that the GOP calls "job killers" — regulations covering everything from health care to dangerous children's toys.
The 241-184 vote on Wednesday sent the bill to the Senate, where majority Democrats are unlikely to place it on the schedule.
The legislation would shift power from unelected agency regulators, many of them experts in their fields, to Congress to make decisions on proposals with a potential economic impact of more than $100 million.
Democrats contend Republicans would use the authority to jeopardize rules covering health care, workplace and food safety, and protection from defective consumer products — and many more protections.
Republicans say the shift from unelected regulators to elected lawmakers is needed to kill the most costly regulations because they prevent companies from expanding and hiring new workers.
"The American people today have been hit by an onslaught of unnecessary federal regulations," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who heads the Judiciary Committee. "From the Obama administration's health care mandate to the increase of burdens on small businesses, government regulation has become a barrier to economic growth and job creation."
"Baloney," said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn. "There isn't a fact in there."
"The mother of all anti-regulatory bills," said opponent Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., asked why a Congress with a 9 percent approval rating in some polls should be entrusted with these new powers.
The chief Republican sponsor of the bill, Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky, complained that the administration was using regulations "as an end run around Congress" to obtain what it can't get from the GOP-run House. He said the bill would include a provision that the Senate could not use a filibuster to prevent a vote on a regulation.
Just last week, Republicans passed another bill that also took aim at regulators across the government. Republicans said that measure would force regulators to follow presidential directives that have been ignored, including seeking lower-cost alternatives.
Neither bill has much of a chance in the Senate, where the Democratic majority decides which bills can be placed on the agenda. Regardless, the White House budget office said that if either bill ever reached Obama's desk, senior advisers would recommend a veto.
The White House said the bill before Congress on Wednesday "would throw all major regulations into a months-long limbo." While Republicans insist the bill would help businesses by giving them cost savings to create jobs, the White House said the legislation would be "impeding business investment that is vital to economic growth."
The bill is aimed at the most expensive proposals called "major rules" — those likely to cost or have an impact of more than $100 million. For instance, proposed environmental rules would usually fall into that category.
Currently, major rules take effect unless Congress passes, and the president signs, a joint resolution disapproving the proposals.
Under the Republican bill, if Congress doesn't approve a major rule within 70 session days, the rule could not take effect. All Republicans would have to do to kill a rule in the current Congress is fail to bring it up for a vote in the House, which they control.
Besides the $100 million economic impact figure, the bill would apply to proposals that could lead to a major increase in costs or prices or that potentially would have a significant adverse effect on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation or competitiveness.
The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, an alliance of consumer, small business, labor, environmental and other groups, said the bill would:
— Undermine the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
— Delay consumer product safety rules affecting toys, cribs and thousands of other consumer products.
— Make it more difficult for the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the safety of food and prescription drugs.
— Delay rules for Americans with disabilities.
— Endanger workers employed in mines, factories and other workplaces where on-the-job hazards exist.
Republicans title the bill Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011, or the REINS Act.