REFORMING the way the federal government draws up rules and
regulations is proving about as easy as untangling a 40-foot ball
of red tape.
Debate on a regulatory-reform bill occupied the Senate floor for
most of last week, and promises to be topic No. 1 among senators
when they convene for business today. Argument has been heated,
even by Washington standards. The reason: Positions on regulatory
reform are closely related to deep philosophical beliefs about the
proper role of the federal government in United States citizens'
To reform-bill proponents, circumscribing the powers of the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration,
and other agencies is all about getting mindless big government off
people's backs. To opponents, it means lowering the nation's guard
against hazards such as tainted meat and unsafe water.
Lost in all the screeching about E. coli bacteria and mindless
bureaucrats, however, are two important political points. The first
is that President Clinton is likely to veto any regulatory reform
he feels goes too far, making discussion of sweeping change moot.
The second is that many lawmakers agree regulators need to do a
better job of balancing risks to the public against the cost of
implementing new rules.
"Both sides, Democrats and Republicans, want to accomplish a
good deal with regard to regulatory reform," said minority leader
Sen. Thomas Daschle (D) of South Dakota on the Senate floor last
It's one of the most important issues Congress will weigh this
year. Regulatory reform may sound obscure, but the regulations
issued by Washington agencies govern activities and products that
touch the lives of every US citizen almost every day. The
cleanliness of the hamburger you bought for last weekend's cookout;
safety standards for the airliner that flew your family off on
vacation; even opening hours for the highway drawbridge that leads
to your kids' camp: All these things can be set by federal
Of course, in recent years many Americans have come to believe
that regulators may touch their lives a bit too much. Horror
stories about the intrusiveness of bureaucrats abound - from the
elderly farmer prevented from planting crops because a broken
drainage pipe had made his farm a "wetland" in the eyes of
Washington, to the business fined for the "safety hazard" of a
splintered handle on a shovel that had already been thrown away. …