House Bid to Cut Red Tape Gets Snagged

Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:18pm

Who thought easing government regulations would be so hard?

What was meant to be the House GOP’s week to cut red tape has turned out to be full of its own bureaucratic hurdles. A typo caused stumbling blocks for the week’s signature legislation, and another bill was sidelined when leadership could not drum up enough support to justify bringing it to the floor.

Following two Justice Department raids on Gibson Guitar Corp. plants, the House was supposed to vote on a bill that would strip regulations on imported wood. But support crumbled and leaders abruptly pulled the bill from the floor.

“They didn’t think they had the votes to pass it,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a lead sponsor of the bill. “This is an internal Republican issue. They were never courting or counting Democratic votes.”

Cooper’s bill would have amended anti-poaching laws that prohibit importing wood logged illegally according to foreign law and grandfathered products made before 2008, when the prohibition was put into effect.

For House leadership, the amendment to the Lacey Act was also supposed to be a hit on President Barack Obama after the Gibson raids, which they blamed on burdensome government regulations. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) even invited Gibson’s CEO to be his guest in the House gallery during Obama’s State of the Union.

“The music industry and small-business owners across the country watched nervously as the federal government recently raided Gibson Guitar,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wrote in a May memo. “Just as fast as Congress can create unintended consequences, we can also fix them.”

Not so fast, however: The coalition of groups supporting the bill imploded. Because it would have been difficult to tell whether composite wood included illegal parts, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) included an amendment to exempt composite wood from the law. That move angered the hardwood lobby.

“They like that competitive advantage of not having to compete with wood coming in from overseas,” the Louisiana lawmaker said. “So we’ve got Members on our side who are subject to the states that have a lot of hardwood who are very concerned and nervous about it.”

Leadership pulled the bill from the floor and replaced it with an offshore oil drilling measure. Though GOP aides said they believed they could have pushed the bill over the finish line, it became more of a fight than they wanted to engage in right before the elections.

“It would have made it tough for our Members. If you had timber in your district and that was big from a jobs standpoint, it would have put you in a tough spot,” one aide said. “It’s not anything that was at the top of the priority list where the constituents were going to pick up the phone and call Member of Congress X and say, ‘I need you to vote for this bill because this is bad for my business.’ Because people don’t know what the hell the Lacey Act is.”

Meanwhile, a major typo threw a wrench into the gears of the regulatory moratorium bill, prompting pleas for cooperation, mockery and recriminations.

Republicans ultimately had to schedule an emergency Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday to pass a self-executing rule that, when passed in the House, likely today, will alter the text of the regulatory measure.

The GOP bill was intended to ban new regulations until the unemployment rate decreased to 6 percent but instead instituted the moratorium until 6 percent “employment.”

The mistake altered the meaning of the bill, making it a ban on regulations until the country reached an unrealistic 94 percent unemployment rate. GOP requests to Democrats to allow it to be fixed via unanimous consent fell on deaf ears.

“We’re not going to give unanimous consent” to fix the typo, Hoyer said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters Wednesday morning. “I know Republicans read the bills,” Hoyer joked.  “My, my, my, how carefully they read that bill.”

The move surprised Republicans, who said they thought they had reached a deal with Hoyer on Tuesday night to allow the fix in exchange for a small, unidentified scheduling change requested by Democrats.

“We never agreed to anything,” a senior Democratic aide said.

As Democrats mocked Republicans, reminding them of their many vows to “read the bill,” GOP aides adopted a dark humor, dubbing the incident “Typogate.”

They also pointed to an incident in 2010, when Republicans allowed Democrats to correct a typo on a small-business bill, arguing the minority was being petty.

“I’ve been thinking, ‘What would I do if I were in the minority?’” Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) asked. “I think it’s just crazy. I mean, they refuse to grant unanimous consent over two simple letters, which are U, N.”

Rules spokesman Doug Andres said the correct version of the bill had been reported from the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees. But because of a “clerical error” introduced in the Rules Committee print, the bill was fundamentally changed.

Republican aides said they had not yet identified who introduced the error into the text.

On the House floor, the incident led to a skirmish between Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

Issa asked Connolly whether he would allow the typo to be fixed if Republicans requested unanimous consent to do so. Connolly reserved the right to object. “Nothing could be more insincere than to pick on professional staff on a typographical error,” Issa fumed.