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Agencies Postpone Issuing New Rules Until After Election


Published: September 27, 2004

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A proposed federal restriction on animal feed was delayed after lobbying from the beef industry.

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. Do Not Open Before the Presidential Election (September 27, 2004)



Food and Drug Administration

United States Chamber of Commerce

Business Roundtable

Consumers Union

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 - After a case of mad cow disease surfaced in Washington State late last year, federal regulators vowed to move swiftly to adopt rules to reduce the risks of further problems and restore confidence in the nation's meat industry.

Some rules were adopted this year. But a few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration, after heavy lobbying from the beef and feed industries, took steps to delay - and to the concern of food safety groups, possibly kill - completion of the most controversial and perhaps most expensive proposal for cattle companies.

That proposal would sharply restrict what could be included in animal feed. Shortly after the administration slowed its consideration of the rule, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association broke its nonpartisan tradition and endorsed President Bush for re-election.

The F.D.A. decision was part of a broader pattern.

In recent weeks, federal agencies across the vast Washington bureaucracy have delayed completion of a range of proposed regulations from food safety and the environment to corporate governance and telecommunications policy until after Election Day, when regulatory action may be more politically palatable.

The delays come after heavy lobbying by industry organizations, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the cattle and feed industries, the four regional Bell operating telephone companies, big health care providers and timber and mining interests.

Some groups have been making their case for regulations that would make it easier for miners and timber companies to develop forests, while others have been advocating wholesale telephone rate rules that could significantly increase prices to consumers. Many corporate executives, meanwhile, have been arguing against a proposal that would give shareholders the ability to remove directors of troubled companies.

Officials have decided to wait until after Election Day to respond to an appeals court decision that struck down rules that would make it easier for the largest media conglomerates to grow larger. And they are not expected to issue rules that will determine prescription rates and coverage under the new Medicare law until after the presidential election.

Both industry lobbyists and their critics say that the re-election of President Bush would probably lead to the adoption of some regulations favorable to industry and the rejection or watering down of others that industry considers objectionable. Consumer groups, environmental organizations and food safety experts, meanwhile, say that delays could lead to significantly weaker rules that could increase prices on some products, reduce safety and relax environmental protections.

While the delay of completing rules, known to lobbyists and policy makers as "slow rolling,'' is common in a campaign season, some environmental groups and consumer advocates say this year is different.

"Generally, regulatory submissions often get pushed off in election years,'' said Gene Kimmelman, a senior director of public policy at Consumers Union.

"What is unusual this time,'' he added, "is the clear pattern of holding back regulatory decisions that will benefit the largest industry players and will drive up prices and market place risks for consumers, ranging from telephones to drugs to the risks of contaminants of food. The pattern of slow rolling will ultimately benefit the largest players and hit consumers in the pocketbook.''

Administration officials have denied such consequences, although they acknowledge that they are generally inclined in each instance to take the least restrictive approach and that they have been sympathetic to the concerns of business interests. They also say that reducing regulations reduces costs to industry and, thus, leads to lower prices for consumers. The administration's critics say that although John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, has taken a different position on some of the regulations, electing him might not affect the outcome of some proposals because the Bush administration would have almost three months after Election Day to complete the rules.

"There could be a fire sale such as we've never seen post-election,'' said Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, one of several environmental groups that is opposing a proposal to make it easier to build roads in millions of acres of forests. Last week, the administration announced that it was extending the comment period for the proposal so that the final regulation could not be adopted before Election Day.

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