Democrats in U.S. Senate try to slow Republican deregulation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats are striking back at the U.S. Congress and White House over their push to cut regulations, as Republicans ratchet up attacks on rules they say hurt business and give bureaucrats too much power.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) answers questions at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Film Interactive Festival 2017 in Austin, Texas, U.S., in this file photo dated March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, on Tuesday introduced legislation to kill the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a law Republicans used over the span of three months this year to repeal 14 regulations enacted by former President Barack Obama, also a Democrat.

Booker, one of his party’s liberal stars, says that rate shows the CRA is prone to abuse, and the law helps special interests sabotage thoroughly vetted rules they do not like.

Booker’s bill, co-sponsored by fellow Democrat Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, would give future administrations the ability to resurrect the 14 annulled regulations on broadband, contraception, guns, the environment, education and other areas.

The CRA bans agencies from issuing new versions of repealed rules in the future. Booker’s bill would also lift that ban. Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline and Michigan Representative John Conyers, both Democrats, introduced a companion bill in the House on Tuesday.

Senator Patty Murray, the senior Democrat of the committee overseeing labor and pensions, also is attempting to work around the prohibition through bills to make two of the eliminated regulations, on retirement savings and workplace safety, the law of the land. She has introduced a bill to help states and cities provide retirement accounts to private-sector workers and has co-sponsored another on employers’ records of injuries and deaths.

If any of the Democrats’ bills survive the Senate, they would likely die in the House, where Republicans hold an ample majority.

After sweeping Congress and the White House in November’s elections, Republicans established a beachhead in their battle against regulation through the CRA.

They are now in the next phase: limiting new rule-makings. Later this week a Senate committee will put finishing touches on the Regulatory Accountability Act and send it to the full chamber.

Supporters say the bill, already passed in the House, makes regulators more answerable to lawmakers and more responsible for analyzing rules’ costs. Critics say it establishes so many requirements that it will paralyze regulation in important areas such as education.

Republicans are also considering keeping the CRA in play.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has asked congressional auditors to determine if the law can be applied to agencies’ guidance that effectively resembles regulation. Others are weighing killing two forthcoming rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, headed by Democrat Richard Cordray, an Obama holdover.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Dan Grebler and Diane Craft