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House balks at Bush order for new power

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush is giving an obscure White House office new powers this month over a wide range of
regulations affecting health, worker safety and the
environment. Calling it a power grab, Democrats running Congress are intent on stopping him.

Bush’s order would require regulators to show that private markets had failed to address a targeted problem before they went after it themselves.

The House voted last week to prohibit the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from spending federal money on the order.

Officially known as Executive Order 13422, the directive was signed by Bush in January and it is to take effect July 24.

It also gives political appointees greater authority over how federal regulations are written.

The House vote came on an amendment to a bill that funds the White House next year.

The bill goes to the Senate when Congress returns next week from a Fourth of July holiday.

Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who teamed with Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., in offering the amendment, said it “stops this president or any president from seizing the power to rewrite almost every law that Congress passes, laws that protect public health, the environment, safety, civil rights, privacy and on and on.”

The administration contends Bush’s order merely strengthens a similar 1993 directive issued by President Clinton giving the White House budget office oversight of federal agency rulemaking.

Andrea Wuebker, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, which manages the White House regulatory affairs office, said the order, along with an OMB good guidance bulletin, “will help increase the quality, accountability and transparency of agency guidance documents. We strongly oppose this amendment.”

Bush’s executive order:

  • Requires agencies to identify “market failures,” where the private sector fell short in dealing with a problem, as a factor in proposing a rule. The White House regulatory affairs office is given authority to assess those conclusions.

  • States that no rulemaking can go forward without the approval of an agency’s Regulatory Policy Office to be headed by a presidential appointee.

  • Directs each agency to provide an estimate of costs and benefits of regulations.

  • Requires agencies to inform the White House regulatory affairs office of proposed significant guidance documents on complying with rules. Critics say this will create a new bottleneck delaying the issuance of guidelines needed to comply with federal regulations.

    Democrats portrayed Bush’s order as another example — similar to carrying out warrantless wiretaps or firing federal prosecutors — where the administration has tried to expand its powers while keeping Congress and the public in the dark.

    Miller, who heads the House Science oversight subcommittee, tried unsuccessfully at a hearing in April to persuade the White House regulatory affairs office’s former acting administrator, Steven Aitken, to reveal what private groups might have been involved in rewriting the Clinton-era order.

    Aitken stressed that the Clinton order also used market failure as a criterion in advancing new rules and directed agencies to appoint regulatory policy officers, many of whom were political appointees.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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