Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON--A massive regulatory reform effort spurred by congressional Republicans and backed by multitudes of U.S. businesses, including the retail community, is making swift progress on Capitol Hill.
In the Senate, a bipartisan effort to stop Congress from imposing laws on local governments without paying for them was discussed Thursday by the Senate Governmental Affairs and Budget committees and is expected to be brought to the floor for consideration by Wednesday, said its sponsor, Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R., Idaho).
In letters sent Thursday to all members of Congress, the National Retail Federation, along with 31 state retail associations, urged approval of the plan. The retail associations said the unfunded mandates are "simply another Washington practice of circumventing a fundamental responsibility in governing, the obligation to bring desires into line with revenues."
They added, "Over the past decade, an unprecedented increase in unfunded federal mandates in environment, labor and education, to name just a few, has forced state and local governments to undertake actions that drain their resources and are often in conflict with the best interests of their citizens as well as our industry."
One fear of the industry is that forced to comply with federal mandates, localities will raise their taxes, and consequently, reduce the spending power of Americans.
Kempthorne's bill, which has the administration's backing along with that of more than half the Senate, requires that any legislation proposing a mandate of more than $50 million must have a Congressional Budget Office estimate of the total cost. Also, if Congress does not find a way to pay for the new mandate, it either would not take effect or must be scaled back to the amount of funding available.
In the House, a bill declaring a moratorium until July 1 on all federal regulations that have gone into effect since the Nov. 8 elections was introduced, and it's expected to come before the full House the week of Jan.16. The moratorium is sought by regulatory reform advocates rebuffed last month when they asked President Clinton to impose a voluntary moratorium on all federal rule making.
"A moratorium is a blunderbuss that could work in unintended ways," Sally Katzen, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, wrote congressional leaders Dec. 14."While we share the view that burdensome regulations need to be cut back, we disagree that a blanket moratorium is the best way to proceed."
The moratorium is the first step in a broad-based effort to repeal reams of Democrat-inspired regulation covering everything from clean air to minimum wage laws.
Among the litany of targeted regulations, retailers are most concerned with easing employer safety standards imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
--Fairchild News Service

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