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From catfish to kombucha, conservatives target 200-plus rules

Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 06:41

[WASHINGTON] House conservatives have a message for President-elect Donald Trump: use your first 100 days to scrap regulations on everything from catfish to ceiling fans to the Export-Import Bank.

The House Freedom Caucus wish list, sent by chairman Mark Meadows to Mr Trump's transition team, includes 228 federal regulations to examine or revoke. It's designed to hold Mr Trump to his campaign promise to use his presidential pen to loosen rules on businesses. It's also certain to trigger partisan fights in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is also on board. "The president-elect has made it clear he's going to move on as many regulatory changes as he can make as soon as he takes office," Mr McConnell said at a news conference this week.

High on the Freedom Caucus's agenda are ending President Barack Obama's executive actions protecting undocumented immigrants who arrived as children and ending the Export-Import Bank, of which Boeing Co is the biggest beneficiary. The list also calls for undoing the 1905 law that created the Overseas Private Investment Corp. which helps US businesses gain a foothold in emerging markets.

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The list also targets First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative against childhood obesity, rules requiring for-profit colleges to teach employable skills, regulations intended to make ceiling fans and washing machines more energy efficient. Net neutrality rules that benefit internet content providers over broadband providers also make the list.

The caucus also included southern lawmaker-authored protections for the domestic catfish growers and alcohol transport regulations that hit the kombucha tea industry. It wants the federal rule barring the transport of drinks with more than 0.5 per cent alcohol to be raised, "in order to support the growing kombucha industry."

For Wall Street, the group is targeted the new fiduciary rule for advisers on retirement plans as well as Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission rules for swaps dealers.

The caucus wants paid sick leave and minimum wage increases for federal contractors to be reversed, along with Mr Obama's increase in the threshold for overtime pay nationwide.

In the area of agriculture, the group would weaken National School Lunch Program standards that require low salt, whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, arguing that "schools are throwing food away that students are not eating."

The change could help processed food companies such as Pepsi Co Inc, Kellogg Co and Hormel Foods Corp.

To the benefit of the tobacco industry, the group would end recent rules requiring new per-market approval for cigars and restricting smoking in public housing.

The list included for elimination a spate of regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, ranging from pollution standards for power plants to ozone reduction requirements estimated to cost billions of dollars a year.

In addition the list proposed the elimination of the renewable fuel standard, the EPA program that requires refiners such as ExxonMobil Corp and Chevron Corp to use billions of gallons of ethanol and other biofuels. Revoking the rules would hurt ethanol makers like Green Plains Inc.

A slew of Energy Department rules requiring household products use less electricity would be voided, including new standards for ceiling fans that have been opposed by companies such as Lowe's Cos Inc and Home Depot Inc, which have expressed concerns the requirements could more than double the price of some fans.

The once mundane efficiency requirements have come to be seen by the Tea Party and others as a symbol of government overreach and intrusion. Appliance makers Whirlpool Corp, General Electric Co and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd could see their business plans affected.

The caucus also takes aim at an Energy Department program that encourages businesses to use alternative vehicles in their fleets.

"Billions of dollars have been sunk into this program for years," the document said. The report cites subsidies that Tesla Motors Inc chairman Elon Musk received for his electric car.

Mr Trump's transition team didn't respond to a request for comment on the list, which is illustrated with a photograph of a Depression-era free-soup line.

Mr Meadows, elected this month to succeed Jim Jordan as House Freedom Caucus chairman, assumed his new role last week in part on a platform of going after regulations aggressively.

"For us it is looking at the whole regulatory reform issue," Mr Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, said in a recent interview. "How do we re-balance that regulatory process where we actually allow the legislative branch determine policy."

The Freedom Caucus will look to back up Mr Trump's regulatory pen with a bill next year to change the regulatory review process to require stricter analysis of the costs of regulations. he said. The group also wants legislation to limit future administrations from stretching the intent of the law when writing follow-up regulations, something Republicans allege Mr Obama did in regulating greenhouse gases.

While some of the executive orders Mr Obama issued can be quickly reversed, others will need to undergo the time consuming federal rule-making process. Congress can reverse the most recent regulations with simple majority votes in the House and Senate using the Congressional Review Act.  Democrats are already vowing to fight the Freedom Caucus effort.

"These efforts to end contraceptive coverage, deport DREAMers, decrease paychecks, and make our air and water dirtier are not new. House Appropriations Committee Democratic spokesman Matt Dennis said in an e-mail.

"Democrats will fight tooth and nail any efforts to walk back progress that we have made for American families." The Freedom Caucus listed as one of its objectives removing the rule designed to guarantee that doctors and insurers can't cite the conscience clause as a reason to deny patients contraceptives.

Republicans have tried in vain to target most of the regulations in recent spending bills, only to see policy provisions stripped out under the threat of an Obama veto.

If Mr Trump acts on many of the regulations himself and takes the policy fights off the table, the job of passing the next round of spending bills in April could be easier, Representative Tom Cole, a Republican on the spending panel, said last week.

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