Republicans act to curb U.S. regulation; Democrats poised for fight

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans lawmakers on Thursday pressed ahead in trying to strip down U.S. regulations, with the House of Representatives passing a bill that requires Congressional approval of major rulemakings that could affect areas ranging from the environment to education.

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) speaks with fellow members on the House floor on the first day of the new session of Congress in Washington, U.S. January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The House voted 237 to 187 on legislation known as the “REINS Act” that is intended to keep agencies from pumping out new rules.

“Excessive regulation means higher prices, lower wages, fewer jobs, less economic growth and a less competitive America,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said before the vote, echoing the anti-regulation sentiment popular in his party.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to roll back regulation, saying it would boost economic growth.

The Judiciary Committee’s senior Democrat, John Conyers, called the REINS Act “gumming-the-works legislation” that imposes unworkable deadlines and prescribes convoluted procedures in order to “end rulemaking as we know it.”

“Without question, it was the lack of regulatory controls that facilitated rampant predatory lending, which nearly destroyed our nation’s economy,” Conyers said, referring to the 2007-09 financial crisis and recession. “It led to millions of home foreclosures and devastated neighborhoods across America. In fact, it nearly caused a global economic meltdown.”

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill giving Congress the power to kill dozens of new rules at once. On Thursday Republican Senator Ron Johnson introduced an identical companion bill in the Senate.

The legislation would allow lawmakers to bundle a variety of rules finalized since May together for a single vote of disapproval. Under a law known as the Congressional Review Act, Congress currently can only vote to void rules one-by-one. That could take days, given the high number of recently enacted rules that rankle Republicans on energy, the environment, transportation, finance, education and communications.

Disapproval votes require simple majorities to pass.

Senate Democrats, however, are poised to block Johnson’s bill and most other anti-regulation legislation. Many in the party believe regulations benefit and protect individuals.

While Republicans control Congress, and in a couple of weeks will take over the White House, Democrats can cripple their efforts through Senate filibusters and possibly start a protracted fight over regulations.

“This legislation would make the process much quicker, but I’m committed to working as long as we need to in order to take advantage of the Congressional Review Act,” Johnson said. “We ought to work 24-7 if necessary to bring regulatory relief to American consumers and businesses.”

Editing by Leslie Adler