Congressional Drive to Cut Red Tape Is Becoming Sticky Safety Rules for Burgers, Bridges Become Target of Next GOP Reform

Article excerpt

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' lives.

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 week.

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 regulation agencies.

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. …

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