House bills would put brakes on SEC, other regulators

Republicans have put regulatory reform — and rolling back Obama administration rules — at the top of their agenda in the new session of Congress

Jan 9, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

The House is scheduled to vote this week on legislation designed to slow down rulemaking at the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies, part of an effort by the Republican Congress to reassert Capitol Hill's control over regulation.

The SEC Regulatory Accountability Act could reach the House floor as soon as Wednesday for what would likely be approval by the chamber's Republican majority.

Written by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., the measure would increase the cost-benefit analysis requirements for SEC regulations.

Such a step would make it more difficult for the SEC to promulgate a regulation, such as one that would raise investment advice standards for retail accounts.

Also, later this week, the full House is likely to approve a broader bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, that would add dozens of procedural steps to the rulemaking process.

Last week, the House approved on a mostly party-line vote, 237-187, a bill that would require congressional approval of regulations that have an annual economic impact of $100 million or more.

House Republicans have put regulatory reform — and rolling back Obama administration rules — at the top of their agenda in the new session of Congress, which began last week.

“We need to get government out of the way of hardworking people so that we can create jobs in this country,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said last Thursday. “That is what regulatory reform is all about, and it will be one of the highest priorities of this new unified Republican government.”

But opponents of the bills say they promote a view that all regulation is bad, rather than acknowledging the need to protect consumers.

“That's a silly way to view [regulation] across the board,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Congress Watch at Public Citizen. “The endgame [of the bills] is shutting down the whole process.”

Versions of the bills have been approved by the House in prior sessions of Congress, though with the knowledge that President Barack Obama stood ready to veto them. President-elect Donald Trump changes the context for the legislation, because they now presumably will have a champion in the White House.

But first they must get through a Senate where Democrats have 48 seats — plenty to sustain a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome.

“Even with the incoming administration, the path to getting 60 votes in the Senate is challenging,” said Jason Rosenstock, a partner at the government consulting firm Thorn Run Partners.

The outcome in the Senate could depend on several Democratic members up for reelection in states Mr. Trump carried, such as Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Jon Tester (Montana), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.).

“The fear is that by pushing all of these bills out at once, Senate moderates may feel they have to support one of the seemingly innocuous ones,” Ms. Gilbert said. “We know they're all equally dangerous.”

It's too early to tell how the senators who could break a filibuster will sort themselves out on regulatory reform — or any legislation.

“It's going to be on a case-by-case basis,” Mr. Rosenstock said.

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