Snowe Anti-Reg Amendment Fails, but with a Majority

A legislative amendment intended to delay new public protections and roll back existing regulations failed in the Senate today. The amendment, championed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), is the same legislation that derailed a small business aid bill last month.

Snowe’s amendment is a sop to corporate lobbyists. It would complicate the rulemaking process in ways that waste agency time and taxpayer resources while giving special interests additional opportunities to game the system and undermine decisions based on science and agency expertise. Specifically, the amendment would:

  • Allow special interests to challenge agency rules in court before they are even finalized, potentially trapping agencies in a never-ending cycle of litigation.
  • Require agencies to conduct lookback reviews for potentially all their rules under deadline. If the agency doesn’t meet the deadline or if the review is deemed inadequate, agency inspectors general could cut agency budgets by one percent for each rule.
  • Increase the number of agencies required to form small business review panels that give business representatives a sneak peek at rules under development, before they go public. (Currently, only EPA, OSHA, and the new consumer protection bureau must form the panels.)
  • Expand agency cost-benefit analyses to include “indirect” impacts, with a definition of indirect that’s vague enough to send agencies on an endless quest for new implications before they can act.
  • Expand these requirements to agency guidance documents, not just rules, even though guidance documents are non-compulsory and often help businesses comply with rules or keep their products and practices safe and effective. 

Snowe attempted to attach her amendment to a bill that would reauthorize the Economic Development Administration. Although the amendment failed in a 53-46 cloture vote, seven short of the 60 needed to end debate, it is unlikely to be gone for good. This is the second time Snowe has tried to attach the amendment to an unrelated bill, and, during the second go-round, she gave it a new, snappy name: Freedom from Restrictive Excessive Executive Demands and Onerous Mandates (FREEDOM) Act of 2011.

(“Freedom” is an interesting choice of title given that the bill’s supporters would pay for it by eliminating a program that helps veterans start and maintain small businesses – a cruel blow to the entrepreneurial spirit of those who fought to keep our nation free. The bill would transfer funds from the Small Business Administration’s Veterans Assistance and Services Program to the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, an agency that funnels business concerns into agency rulemakings.)

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, of which OMB Watch is a member, wrote to Senators today urging them to vote “no” on the amendment and applauds the 46 Senators who did.

But the 53 who voted “aye” should be ashamed. The Snowe amendment would impact every major regulatory agency, slowing health and safety standards in the pipeline and allowing special interests to target rules on the books. The amendment would negatively impact food and product safety, clean air and water, the health and safety of miners and other workers, fair access to healthcare, and tougher oversight of Wall Street. Rules that aid students, farmers, veterans, the disabled, and even small businesses – which the amendment purports to benefit – would be swept in as well.

Snowe’s amendment is backed by big business lobbyists from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Home Builders, National Retail Federation, and others.

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