WASHINGTON — In an ambitious gesture to their business allies, House Republicans passed legislation Friday to reduce what the GOP calls "an avalanche" of unneeded, costly regulations. Opponents call the bill an attempt to prevent the government from protecting Americans at their workplaces, in their homes and when they want a breath of fresh air.
The 253-167 vote sent the bill to the Democratic-run Senate, where it's likely to die. Just in case, the White House has issued a veto threat.
Republicans insist the mostly technical legislation would simply force federal agencies to follow presidential directives that have often been ignored — including seeking with the lowest cost. The objective, the GOP says, is to allow companies to use their money to hire workers.
But Democrats, the White House, and government watchdog groups insist the aim is to get rid of aggressive rules approved by the Obama administration — regulations that businesses complain about constantly.
"America faces an avalanche of unnecessary federal regulatory costs," Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said during House debate. "Yet the Obama administration seeks to add billions more to that cost."
Democratic Rep. George Miller of California denounced the bill, saying the U.S. has spent great time and effort "to ensure when workers go to work every day, they will return safely to their home."
"This legislation begins to bring that to an end because it would needlessly and recklessly expose our workers to injuries," said Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
At this point, the fight over this and other anti-regulation bills approved by the GOP-led House is mainly a 2012 campaign issue, since they have little chance in the Democratic-run Senate.
The GOP effort is not finished. Next week, the House is expected to pass a bill that would make it easier for Congress to kill proposed rules.
Republicans agree the bill passed Friday would have a major impact on regulators but argue that's because it's not difficult for agencies to ignore presidential directives that don't have the force of law. Supporters and opponents agree on the major impact, but not much else.
—The opponents insist the bill would require agencies to consider any suggestions by interested parties, allowing opponents to dial up their lobbyists to keep offering changes and delaying a proposed rule. Republicans disagree, saying there's no change in the 60-day comment period for minor regulations and 120 days for major rules projected to cost at least $100 million.
—The bill would require an earlier analysis of costs and benefits, a provision that opponents argue would lead to misinformation that could cause delays. Republicans counter that agencies now misuse the analysis to justify the decisions they already made.
—Opponents object to additional proceedings for rules with a projected cost of more than $1 billion. Republicans argue there are only seven such regulations pending, including a now-delayed rule on boiler emissions. They said the hearing could be scheduled quickly and would not have to delay the final action.
Until now, Republicans have focused on derailing specific rules and regulations from the Obama administration, many of them from the Environmental Protection Agency. The latest effort, and the next bill giving Congress greater control over regulations, would cover the entire federal government.
OMB Watch, an advocacy organization that tracks federal regulations, said that if the bill were already law, it would have stopped the government from issuing its finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health. The group said it also would have hindered the government's efforts to declare a popular weed killer dangerous, make statements about the effects of too much salt on people's health and issue a strong rule on lead in gasoline.
Republicans received support from Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.
"In agriculture we have been dealing with innumerable problems that have been brought by regulations that are not properly vetted and seem to be for people that have a lack of understanding of exactly what's going on in agriculture," he said.
"So this legislation gives us an overhaul ... to make sure that we have more openness, more transparency, more accountability in these regulations. More time, more analysis."
Nineteen Democrats voted for the bill.