July 16, 2024

You’re the Boss: Small-Business Regulation Bill Gets (and Loses) a Vote

The Agenda

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Small Business Committee, finally got the vote she sought for legislation that would make sweeping changes to federal rule making by requiring more deference to small-business interests. She lost, largely on party lines.

Last month, Ms. Snowe refused to support a call to end debate on a bill to reauthorize the popular Small Business Investment Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs — a bill she helped write — because Democrats would not allow debate on an amendment that would have tacked her Small Business Regulatory Freedom Act to the S.B.I.R. reauthorization. Ultimately, no Republican voted for cloture on the bill, and Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, declared the legislation effectively dead.

Now the Senate is debating a bill to reauthorize the Economic Development Administration, a Commerce Department agency that offers development grants, particularly to distressed communities. Once again, Ms. Snowe has submitted her amendment, rechristened the Freedom from Restrictive Excessive Executive Demands and Onerous Mandates Act of 2011. (It’s a mouthful, but it yields a gem of an acronym: it’s the F.R.E.E.D.O.M. Act.) This time, Mr. Reid relented.

Ms. Snowe’s bill would make several important changes that could dramatically slow the pace of federal rule making, and give small businesses new opportunities to block rules. The Regulatory Flexibility Act already requires federal agencies to complete economic analyses for new rules that will likely have “a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.” Ms. Snowe would extend the analysis to include indirect effects, and require analyses even for guidance documents that explain regulations or policies.

Eventually, every agency would have to convene panels of small businesses to assess regulations likely to affect small businesses. (Presently only the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and — thanks to Ms. Snowe — the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have to convene the panels.) Agencies would have to review, with an eye toward annulling, rules that affect small businesses every nine years. And small companies would be able to sue an agency before it finishes writing a regulation.

Critics say that rule-writing under Ms. Snowe’s proposed changes would take longer and become more costly. David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, said the expanded judicial review could add years to the timeline. “It’s a bedrock principle of administrative law that you have to wait until you have a final agency action before you can sue the agency,” he said. The small-business review panels alone would consume between two and six months, he added.

But a spokeswoman for Ms. Snowe downplayed those concerns. The definition of indirect economic costs “is narrowly enough tailored to make it reasonable for agencies to be able to determine the costs,” said the spokeswoman, Katie Bruns, in an e-mail. “And by engaging small businesses throughout the process, there tends to be a far better understanding and compliance with the rule once it is finalized, which Ms. Snowe believes will ultimately save agencies resources.” In any event, she continued, “the real question is, why would we sacrifice crafting good policy and avoiding unintended consequences in the name of expediency?”

The Senate took up Ms. Snowe’s amendment on Thursday, but the measure didn’t get the 60 votes needed to end debate. The tally on the cloture vote was 53 to 48. Six Democrats joined every Republican in support of the measure, while 44 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents voted against.

One question lingers for supporters of the S.B.I.R. and S.T.T.R. reauthorization that failed in May: Now that Ms. Snowe has had her vote, will she support bringing the S.B.I.R. bill to a final vote? Senator Mary Landrieu, the Democratic chair of the Small Business Committee and that bill’s sponsor, is optimistic, according to her spokesman, Richard Carbo, though he added, in an e-mail, that “there are no guarantees. Senator Snowe would have to help us in delivering a few other of her members.”

The Agenda put the question to Ms. Snowe’s office. Another spokesman, Brandon Bouchard, offered a noncommittal response by e-mail: “Ranking Member Snowe is a strong supporter of the underlying S.B.I.R. bill and remains interested in working with leadership on both sides of the aisle to determine a path forward on that legislation,” he said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d0d47ba741f897afaa630aba371d99a6

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