A bill that would strengthen Capitol Hill’s oversight of federal regulatory agencies by creating a new Congressional office to review the costs and benefits of proposed rules is picking up momentum.
H.R. 1704, sponsored by Representative Sue Kelly (R-New York), would establish the Congressional Office of Regulatory Analysis, or CORA, which would provide lawmakers with information on the potential impact of new regulations issued by federal agencies.
Kelly’s bill, approved by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year, passed the Government Reform and Oversight Committee on May 22. In clearing both panels, the legislation has been amended to accommodate the wishes of various lawmakers. As amended by the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, for example, no cost-benefit analysis on a proposed regulation would originate at CORA; instead, the new Congressional office would build on analyses already carried out by the agency issuing the rule.
The CORA proposal has raised concerns even among lawmakers who would like to put the brakes on federal regulatory activity. Many are reluctant to create an office that could, over time, evolve into a bureaucracy of its own. The Government Reform and Oversight Committee amended the original CORA proposal to provide that no more than $5 million annually would be appropriated to CORA. By contrast, the Judiciary Committee has earmarked $30 million for the office.
EPA is certain to be irked by an amendment providing that the House leadership will select a director for CORA after consultations with the Government Reform and Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on economic growth, natural resources, and regulatory affairs. The chairman of that subcommittee is long-time EPA critic Rep. David McIntosh (R-Indiana).
Kelly was moved to push for the creation of CORA after it became apparent that Congressional efforts to regain control of the regulatory process were meeting with little success. Since Kelly first introduced her bill in 1997, over 4,500 “non-major” final rules have been submitted to the Government Accounting Office (GAO) for approval, and 72 “major” rules, on which GAO is required to submit statements to Congress, have been issued.
But despite this veritable flood of new regulations, Congress has been reluctant to avail itself of the tools provided it by the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives Congress authority to prevent new rules from taking effect. Frustrated by this inaction, Kelly opted for the creation of CORA.
The bill is vigorously opposed by environmentalists who argue that CORA will, among other things, undermine public confidence in the rulemaking process. A companion version of H.R. 1704 has been introduced in the Senate by Richard Shelby (R-Alabama). However, the Senate is not expected to act on his bill, S. 1675, until it is clear that the House has passed Kelly’s bill in a floor vote. That vote is expected shortly.