Regulations

August 16, 1992|By Karen Hosler

When it comes to red tape, George Bush has given and George Bush has taken away.

The three legislative proposals that the president claims among his major domestic achievements -- the Clean Air Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 -- added many new pages to the volumes of government regulations.

But as the failing economy brought new concerns about the ability of business to withstand the burden, the administration moved to undo some of its handiwork.

Mr. Bush's desire to strengthen his support among conservatives at a time of increased vulnerability at the polls added special fervor to the anti-regulatory crusade.

The result, predictably, has been mixed. "I can't say it's been the greatest regulatory reform effort ever or that it's been a disaster," said Murray L. Weidenbaum, who led such efforts for President Reagan as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers. "On balance, I'd have to say you have more regulation under Bush than under Reagan."

The American with Disabilities Act, which Mr. Bush enthusiastically supported early in his term, provides sweeping guarantees that persons with physical limitations -- including AIDS, alcoholism or mental illness -- cannot be denied employment opportunities or access to public accommodations on that basis.

Among the revolutionary changes required by the Clean Air Act is the conversion of much of the nation's automobile fleet to cars that burn alcohol-based fuels rather than gasoline.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 reinstates and expands upon protections against race, age and gender discrimination in hiring and promotion, creating a regulatory system so strict the president vetoed a 1990 version of the bill on the grounds that it would impose a de facto quota system. He only signed the later bill after it was clear he no longer had enough votes in the Senate to sustain a veto.

The regulatory pendulum appeared to swing back in the other direction this year, however, as Vice President Dan Quayle convinced Mr. Bush to order a three-month moratorium on new (( regulations that was later extended another four months through the end of August.

Mr. Bush said the goal was to weed out excessive and and misguided requirements that "impose hidden taxes and costs on society" and have unintended effects.

Some results have been broadly praised, including an acceleration of the approval process for new drugs to treat AIDS and biotechnology products.

But environmentalists claim the president has used the ban to weaken provisions of the Clean Air Act to favor business. For example, Mr. Bush determined that a business seeking federal approval to increase its pollution levels beyond provisions of its initial permit is not required to issue a public notice.

The American Heart Association and other health groups also complain that new regulations on nuitrition labeling, due to be implemented next year, are being held up because of complaints by food companies.

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