WASHINGTON -- Bureaucrats beware. The Republican-led House yesterday approved a "corrections" process for quickly voiding any federal regulations it considers silly, stupid and impractical.
The lawmakers said they hope they don't have to go that far. Their true goal, they said, is to pressure federal regulators to back off voluntarily when they encounter criticism.
"We think that by identifying this corrections process, that the minute a legislator starts to propose it, a signal goes to that particular bureaucracy that this is something they'd better rethink," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who dreamed up the "corrections" scheme.
In the same anti-government, free-market spirit that characterized their "Contract with America," House Republicans won a 271-146 vote yesterday in favor of changing House rules to allow unpopular regulations to be speedily overturned. But the sweeping new procedure extends far beyond the work of bureaucrats and could be used to quickly wipe any federal law off the books.
"This would allow for the massive termination of programs, the termination of agencies in government dealing with such things as welfare, water pollution and air pollution," said Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat. "This is not something that is going to lead to good legislation but only to curb debate."
A "corrections day" would be set aside twice a month to consider such proposals. Only one hour of debate would be permitted. And no amendments could be offered unless approved by Republican leaders.
The repeal of a regulation could be approved on a three-fifths vote of 261, instead of the 290 votes now required for other House legislation handled on a fast track. The repeal would have to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president.
A speedy process for considering "corrections" bills is unlikely to be put in place in the Senate, which is designed to be more deliberative. But House Republican leaders say they are hopeful of shaming the senators into acting quickly if need be.
"The hope is that you can embarrass them, that the momentum for action will be so great after the House votes that it can't be overcome," said Rep. William F. Clinger Jr., a Pennsylvania Republican.
Maryland's delegation split along party lines, with Republicans Roscoe G. Bartlett, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Wayne T. Gilchrest and Constance A. Morella voting for the measure. Democrats Benjamin L. Cardin, Steny H. Hoyer, Kweisi Mfume and Albert R. Wynn voted against it.
Republicans said yesterday that they are aiming at regulations that are clearly unworkable. They cited a safety rule that bars firefighters from launching into action until at least four have arrived on the scene; a requirement that builders use water-saving toilets that take two flushes to do the job; and conflicting directives to a pig farmer, one ordering that he spread the manure on a field, another ordering that he plow it under.
But Democrats complained that the rules change puts too much power in the hands of the House speaker. Mr. Gingrich would be able to dictate which proposals came up for "correction" and which amendments, if any, would be allowed.
"This is a lot of power to give one individual, to stifle points of view and keep opposing ideas out of public debate," said Rep. Norman Y. Mineta, a California Democrat. "This is not a power anyone needs to pass measures which are broadly bipartisan and nonpartisan."
Mr. Gingrich, who has already amassed more power in the JTC speaker's office than any recent predecessor, has a broader agenda than getting rid of regulations everyone agrees on, the Democrats charged.
Democratic leaders failed to persuade their colleagues yesterday to amend the "corrections" procedure to require a two-thirds vote, rather than three-fifths.
But 46 Democrats deserted party ranks to vote with 225 Republicans, providing a victory margin even larger than the three-fifths that will be required to make corrections.
Mr. Gingrich and other Republican leaders said they plan to choose the first "correction" proposals carefully, in hopes of gaining broad bipartisan support and avoiding allegations of abusing their power.
Mr. Ehrlich, of Baltimore County, was named yesterday to an advisory committee of seven Republicans and five Democrats that will propose items to Mr. Gingrich for the "corrections" agenda.