GOP Hopes to Unspool Government Red Tape Jettisoning New Rules Could Affect Everything from Bridges to Citrus

Article excerpt

TO resurgent Republicans, the US government under President Clinton has become a machine for manufacturing red tape. Critics claim that Federal agencies crank out rule after rule, forcing some roofers to seal themselves in moon suits and paying more attention to the interests of cactus pygmy owls than those of small businesses.

To Clinton officials, many of these same actions seem like long-needed moves promoting public welfare and the environment. Energized US agencies are now working on standards for indoor air quality, workplace ergonomic safety, and other issues that lay dormant for years under Republican presidents.

The struggle to control this regulatory apparatus promises to be one of the most intense, yet least-noticed aspects of the coming Republican Congressional ascendency. The GOP, in fact, is pushing the White House to freeze all new rules for 100 days - an action Clinton officials reject as a dangerous "blunderbuss."

"We share the view that burdensome regulations need to be cut back," wrote Office of Management and Budget official Sally Katzen in a letter to the GOP. "We disagree that a blanket moratorium is the best way to proceed."

The struggle for the regulation "on-off" switch may sound boring compared to high-stakes news items such as tax cuts or the O.J. Simpson trial. But federal regulations are the real day-to-day business of Washington. Most lobbying, much legislating, and almost all executive branch work revolves around proposed new rules or changes in old ones.

The Federal Register is the bible of the regulatory set. Each workday this thick publication prints proposed or final rules in tiny type on flimsy newsprint. A recent week's worth of Registers reveals the Washington the mainstream media mostly miss:

* The Department of Transportation is changing the hours of operation at the S36 drawbridge over the St. Croix River at Stillwater, Minn. The city mayor complained that traffic was piling up and that the bridge opened too often; the new schedule reduces openings during rush hour.

* The Department of Agriculture wants to relax regulations governing packing containers for citrus fruit grown in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Among other things, a new fiberboard display bin is being added to the list of approved boxes: the new box "works as an in-store advertisement" for the fruit, according to the Register. …