Oversight committee advances bills to review agency rulemaking

Two regulatory reforms bills made it out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday, over the protests of Democratic lawmakers who argued the bills were solutions in search of a problem.

Committee members at a markup hearing passed Rep. Jason Smith’s (R-Mo.) reintroduced SCRUB Act, which would set up an oversight commission to identify out-of-date federal agency regulations.

The bill, which passed the House last year, could receive further support thanks to President Donald Trump’s “two-for-one” executive order, which calls for agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new proposed one.

“The accumulation of regulations and red tape is a significant problem in the federal government. Year after year, federal agencies add regulation upon regulation, piling onto the already complex and convoluted regulatory system,” Rep. Ronald DeSantis (R-Fla.) told the committee.

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Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, rejected creating a regulatory oversight commission, which the Congressional Budget Office in 2015 estimated would cost $30 million over a five-year period.

“This bill seems to claim to reduce bureaucracy by creating a new commission that would cost taxpayers $30 million to do what agencies and Congress already are doing,” Cummings said.

Federal agencies already have a longstanding mandate to review and eliminate outdated regulations. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling on agencies to “periodically review its existing significant regulations to determine whether any such regulations should be modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed.”

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2007 that “every president since President Carter has directed agencies to evaluate or reconsider existing regulations.”

The committee also passed Rep. Tim Walberg’s (R-Ill.) bill that would regulate how agencies solicit public comments for proposed rules, and require them to post all public comments on proposed rules.

“The purpose of this is so that the agencies don’t go out and advocate for the rule,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), speaking on behalf of the committee.

The bill stems from a 2015 report in which the GAO concluded the Environmental Protected Agency violated federal law in its use of social media to promote a proposed water regulation. Farenthold said the EPA “oversimplified” the parameters of the proposed rule on social media so that it would pass.

But Democrats on the committee said the bill would put a chilling effect on agencies.

“There’s a fine line between explaining the rationale behind a rule, and what some might call advocacy,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “And what I worry about is the suppression of the ability of agencies, frankly, to explicate and answer questions for regulations they might propound because of what they interpret to be a gag rule.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a freshman member of the committee, also weighed in against the bill.

“The line we’ve got to walk here is we want the regulatory agency to solicit the widest possible public input, and we don’t want them to be harassed and bedeviled in their work by someone saying ‘you shouldn’t be out there trying to get public participation,'” he said.