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Foxx and Sanchez: Light the Process, Lighten the Load

Bipartisan UMRA reform legislation seeks to leverage transparency as filter for bad regulation

Every year, Washington imposes thousands of pages of rules and regulations on small businesses and local governments across this country. Hidden in those pages are costly mandates that make it harder for companies to hire and for cash-strapped states, counties and cities to keep streets clean and parks safe.

We are two members of Congress, one a Southern Republican and the other a California Democrat, who believe that each regulation the federal government dictates should be deliberative and economically defensible. And so we banded together with three other co-sponsors to form a bipartisan team to introduce HR 899, the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act, legislation that will ensure public and bureaucratic awareness about the costs — in dollars and in jobs — federal dictates pose to the economy and to local governments.

There is precedence for bipartisanship on this issue. In 1995, members from both parties got behind, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, which sought to expose Washington’s abuse of unfunded federal mandates.

By forcing the federal government to estimate how much its mandates would cost local governments and employers, regulation would necessarily become better and more efficient for everyone involved  . . .  and it has, to a certain extent.

But over the years, weaknesses in the original legislation have been revealed — weaknesses that some government agencies and independent regulatory bodies have exploited.

Our legislation will correct these oversights and put some weight behind UMRA to ensure no government body, purposely or accidentally, skirts public scrutiny when jobs and scarce resources are at stake.

UMITA will impose stricter, more clearly defined requirements for how Congress and regulatory agencies must consider federal mandates. It also corrects a glaring UMRA loophole, the exemption of independent agencies from considering regulatory costs.

Unlike the 1995 bill, our legislation guarantees the public always has the opportunity to weigh in on regulations. Our bill fixes the problematic incentive UMRA inadvertently created for some agencies to forgo public rule disclosures in order to avoid cost evaluations.

Congress and the American people will also be equipped with better tools through our joint effort to determine the true cost of regulations. Analyses required by our bill will have to factor in real-world consequences such as lost business profits, costs passed onto consumers and changed behavior costs when considering the bottom-line impact of federal mandates.

And finally, UMITA will ensure government is held accountable for following these rules.

On many high-profile issues, one would be hard-pressed to find us in agreement. But the spirit of this legislation and its underlying principle — that the American people would be better served by a government that only regulates with the best of information — unites us.

At the very least, lawmakers and unelected regulators should know the price of their dictates. So, too, should the people, private enterprises and governments being asked to foot the bill.

The process of reforming UMRA in this manner started six years ago in the Foxx office. With the team we have assembled today, and the acute need for smarter regulation in this job market, there should be no further delay to its passage.

Times are tight for families across this country. Millions of Americans remain unemployed, and many more still rely on small businesses and local governments for jobs, health care, public safety and education.

Washington should think carefully before it decrees mandates that could siphon from the limited dollars governments and private sector job creators use to keep people employed and localities functioning. But as loopholes within the original UMRA legislation have revealed, federal mandates are not universally preceded by thoughtfulness. The Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act we have introduced will require that from government.

Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., are sponsors of The Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act, HR 899.

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