Capitol HillA former Republican lawmaker is warning that a GOP-sponsored bill coming under consideration would shut down the entire regulatory system, if its backers succeed in getting it passed.

Former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said the measure is an indication of the “stranglehold” that the right wing of his party has on the Republican Congressional agenda.

“I wish that description were hyperbole, but it is not; indeed, it would be difficult to exaggerate the sweep and destructiveness of the House bill,” said Boehlert.

The bill is titled the “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act” -- a name that borders on self-parody, according to Boehlert. “There is no indication that this bill would aid job growth. Indeed by blocking rules needed to make the economy run more smoothly – like ones to protect another financial meltdown – the bill could harm our economic prospects for years to come.”

H.R. 4078 would impose a moratorium on the issuance of any and all major new regulations for the foreseeable future except in the case of narrowly defined emergencies (and even those emergency designations could be challenged in court). The moratorium would remain in place until unemployment averaged 6 percent or less for an entire quarter. That percentage has been exceeded for the past 15 quarters.

The bill prohibits not just the issuance of new standards and safeguards but any action that “is expected to lead to” their being proposed. 

“The legislation might as well just directly order the agencies that were created to protect the public to close up shop (except for enforcement actions) for the next few years,” said Boehlert. “Unhappy that it has been unable to provoke a government shutdown over spending battles or a default on the nation’s debt, the right wing has now come up with a more subtle way to make sure the government can’t do its job. And what should be seen as a strikingly outlandish proposal is instead being treated by the House as a marquee bill.”

Boehlert said that banning any new regulations could have a host of unintended consequences, such as:

  • New ways to stimulate the housing market could not be considered
  • Ways to counteract the way banks have misreported and manipulated interest rates could not be enacted
  • Consumers could not be protected from new attempts by banks to impose exorbitant fees 

New rules to improve health and safety or to protect the environment would also fail to emerge.

“Want those new mileage standards that even the auto industry is supporting? They’d be blocked for years, hurting consumers and the economy. How about some rules for new methods of extracting natural gas? No can do, even if industry wanted them to provide certainty and perhaps limit liability. How about applying the lessons learned from the oil disaster in the Gulf? That would just have to wait.”

He said that if elected president, Mitt Romney would be unable to impose new limitations on what government aid could be used for. 

Boehlert charged the backers of the bill with ignoring practical concerns, and instead using it to codify what he called an ideological fantasy.

“Bills like this make it harder, not easier to get down to the real work of improving the regulatory system,” he said.

“The media and the Washington establishment have largely been ignoring the House effort because it seems so far-fetched. But we ignore these efforts at our peril. The state of the regulatory system and the role of government are important issues that deserve serious debate. Each time a bill like this passes, it shifts the debate to the right, makes it harder to work out sensible compromises, and puts members on the record in ways that restrict future action.”

Boehlert said the bill should spark debate as well as opposition that spans partisan lines.

“Those who understand the consequences of this bill, including business leaders, ought to feel obligated to speak out.”

Click here to read Boehlert's op-ed piece in its entirety. Boehlert was a Republican Congressman from upstate New York from 1983–2006. He chaired the House Committee on Science from 2001-2006.