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Federal Rules Fight Sparks Reunion

GOP’s Deregulation Push Pulls In Opponents

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Gary Bass, the founder of OMB Watch, helped lead the fight against Republican deregulation proposals in the mid-1990s. Now, he’s re-creating a coalition to challenge the new GOP regulatory agenda.

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Correction Appended

Gary Bass is getting the band back together.

In the midst of the last Republican revolution in the mid-1990s, the founder of the advocacy group OMB Watch convened a group of safety, health and environmental advocates to join forces and oppose efforts by the GOP Congress to cut federal regulations. More or less, they succeeded.

This spring, Bass is at it again, drawing together a coalition of like-minded groups to fend off a series of similar deregulatory proposals moving through the new Congress, which has a GOP-controlled House. The group, called the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, includes many of the same organizations and in some cases, the same people that banded together 16 years ago.

Back then, Bass called the group Citizens for Sensible Safeguards. He testified in February 1995 that "we are concerned about a growing anti-regulatory mood that puts public protections second to free market considerations." Regulatory reform legislation drafted by the Republican Congress, he said then, was "little more than an anti-regulatory attack premised on the industry-led view that government regulations thwart competitiveness."

Today, Bass makes largely the same argument about bills introduced in the 112th Congress to curb regulations. "When the Contract With America was proposed, that was an assault on the notion of federal regulation," Bass recently told Roll Call. "That assault is reoccuring today as part of a general anti-government sentiment."

Several regulatory reform measures have sprung up already in the 112th Congress, including a proposal by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to create a commission to "sunset" federal programs and a bill by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) called the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act that would require Congressional approval of any new major rules written by federal agencies. Supporters of the measure said this is a proper system of Congressional oversight to ensure that rules properly reflect legislative intent and to curb unnecessary rules; opponents say it would make it almost impossible for an agency to implement a major regulation.

Bass and his coalition are targeting these measures as unwise and unwarranted attempts to block important health and safety standards. The coalition includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen and a host of other labor, health and environmental groups that are reprising their roles from the Gingrich Congress in the effort to stop a GOP "regulatory reform" effort.

The group began forming just after the November elections and had its first formal meeting in March. It has funding from the Bauman Foundation; Bass is leaving OMB Watch at the end of June to work full time for the foundation, but he will continue leading the coalition as well.

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