Catching up with last week’s blizzard of legislative action and regulatory excess…

On Thursday, Dec. 23, the Environmental Protection Agency circumvented the policymaking branch of government, the U.S. Congress, and announced its plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from such sources as coal-fired power plants and refineries. In a statement, Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said, “Today’s announcements demonstrate the EPA’s commitment to move forward with an overreaching agenda that will only raise energy costs and hurt manufacturers’ ability to grow, create jobs and compete in the global marketplace.” 

As its final legislative action before adjourning, the House on Wednesday, Dec. 22, agreed to the Senate’s stripped-down version of H.R. 6517, the Omnibus Trade Act. With removal of the critical Miscellaneous Trade Benefits language, the bill is more minibus: It extends for six weeks Andean Trade Preferences Act benefits for Colombia — well-deserved — and for Ecuador, now governed by the leftist government of Rafael Correa, which has attacked the rule of law and violated its treaty obligations. The bill also extends Trade Adjustment Assistance authority for retraining programs for workers affected by trade. The incoming Ways & Means chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), commented, “I would rather have passed a longer-term extension of ATPA and TAA, and unfortunately, the other provisions of the House bill died in the Senate.  I look forward to working in the next Congress on additional trade legislation, including enacting the trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama.” 

Also on Wednesday, the House approved the Senate-amended version of H.R. 847, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, by a vote of 206-60, with 168 members not voting. The earlier House bill had a pricetag of $7.4 billion; thanks largely to the doughtiness of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the total cost has been reduced to $4.2 billion with stronger oversight provisions included and a cap imposed on trial lawyer fees. (Coburn news release.) The compromise language replaces the House’s early funding mechanism, a tax on multinational companies that do business in the United States. Instead, the law charges  “a 2 percent excise fee on foreign manufacturers/companies located in countries where the U.S. does not have an international procurement agreement receiving government disbursements made under future procurement agreements.  In addition, the bill would extend fees on H-1B and L-1 visas until 2015.” (Senate GOP release.) 

The Senate confirmed federal judges, but did not act on two controversial nominees to U.S. District Court of interest to manufacturers: John “Jack” McConnell, the Rhode Island trial lawyer who masterminded the state’s litigation against paint manufacturers, and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, Jr., who helped strike down the state’s limits on medical liability and promoted the scheme of “market share liability” for paint manufacturers. 

On Tuesday, Dec. 21, the House of Representatives agreed to the Senate amendments to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act as contained in H.R. 2751, and the bill now goes to President Obama for his signature. The NAM supported the bill. For more, see Food Manufacturing’s report, “What The Food Safety Modernization Act Means To You.” 

Also Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 228-130 to approve the Senate amendments to H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, clearing the bill for the President’s signature. The week before, NAM President John Engler lauded the Senate for its action, commenting, “Our economic future relies more than ever on our ability to innovate, and the reauthorization of the COMPETES Act will help manufacturers prosper in a globally integrated and highly competitive marketplace.” Seen also the news release from the retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science Committee, who ends his Congressional career on a high note with the bill’s passage, “Chairman Gordon’s Landmark Innovation Legislation is Sent to the President’s Desk.” Congratulations and thanks, Congressman. 

Also on Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services circumvented the policymaking branch of government, the U.S. Congress, to continue the government takeover of health care — take that, Politifact! — by announcing proposed regulations to override state regulation of insurance based on subjective standards. From the HHS news release, “New Affordable Care Act rules shed light on high health insurance rate hikes“: “Today’s proposed regulations will … [require] insurers in all states to publicly justify any unreasonable rate increases beginning in 2011.” See also The Hill, “Reviews of rate hikes might be extended to large groups.” 

Further on Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission ignored Congress to set federal Internet policy, by a 3-2 vote enacting “net neutrality” rules. The FCC’s majority touted its new rules in a news release, “FCC Acts to Preserve Internet Freedom and Openness.” Commissioner Robert McDowell gave a forceful statement in dissent. He said, “In 2008, the FCC tried to reach beyond its legal authority to regulate the Internet, and it was slapped back by an appellate court only eight short months ago. Today, the Commission is choosing to ignore the recent past as it attempts the same act. In so doing, the FCC is not only defying a court, but it is circumventing the will of a large, bipartisan majority of Congress as well.”   

Federal Times also covers last week’s activities, “Congress wraps up: Comptroller general confirmed, but whistle-blower bill dies.”

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