The Congressional Review Act (CRA), which passed as an amendment to the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), makes it easier for Congress to cancel a federal regulation that legislators judged went too far. But since the SBREFA passed two years ago, fewer than 10 resolutions of disapproval have been introduced in either the House or Senate.
CRA backers say the amendment has been ignored because Congress lacks the resources to analyze the impact of the thousands of federal rules published each year. And that, they say, is the first step in moving on a resolution of disapproval.
In light of this, congressional Republicans are trying to pump life into the CRA with the Congressional Office of Regulatory Analysis (CORA) Creation Act (H.R. 1704). The act is sponsored by Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY), chair of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Paperwork Reduction; Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is sponsoring the bill's Senatorial counterpart (S.1675).
CRA backers say that the CORA would allow Congress to gather the data necessary to challenge federal agency rules. The CORA would function in the same way the highly respected, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office does.
"Unless Congress more vigorously [asserts] its authority under the Congressional Review Act," says Kelly, "it risks becoming a paper tiger that will empower agencies to act even more boldly because Congress has demonstrated a lack of political will to challenge any of their decisions."
H.R. 1704 cleared the House Judiciary Committee on March 4, with all 15 Democrats turning their thumbs down on the bill--and all but two Republicans voting in its favor. At press time, H.R. 1704 was expected to clear the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee as well.
It is not clear whether President Clinton has a position on the bill. Craig Brightup, director of government relations for the National Roofing Contractors Association, notes that even though some Democrats and President Clinton opposed some SBREFA provisions, that bill passed when it was appended to another bill that was a "must-pass" for Democrats.
Some members of Congress are concerned that the CORA would become a monster whose budget would quickly grow out of control. To alleviate that concern, the Judiciary Committee adopted an amendment that says the CORA budget can be no bigger than that of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House, whose current budget is approximately $5.2 million.
Given the fees some federal rules impose on small business, that seems a small price to pay.
Stephen Barlas is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.