This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) that would have allowed small businesses to sue federal agencies over regulations that have not yet been finalized. (Current law barred such legal action until agencies had finalized regulations.) Many Democrats argued that the amendment could effectively delay the implementation of health and safety regulations for months if not years. Republicans argued that beginning the judicial review process before federal agencies had finished writing regulations would give small businesses more say in regulations that could adversely affect them.
Another controversial provision of Snowe’s amendment would require federal agencies to consider the “indirect economic impact” of regulations on small businesses. Many Democrats argued that such a directive was so vague and open-ended that it could hamstring federal agencies’ ability to implement regulations intended to protect the health and safety of consumers. Republicans countered that agencies must be required to consider the “indirect economic impact” of regulations in order to protect small businesses against onerous mandates that hamper their ability to hire new employees.
Snowe argued: “It is absolutely vital that the federal government consider the small business economic impact of the rules and regulations that agencies promulgate.” Urging support for her amendment, Snowe said: “My state of Maine is a small business state with over 97 percent small businesses, so I fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of the situation, the circumstances in which they find themselves and struggle to survive…. This is one of the most consequential times in our economic history, and we have an obligation to lift up the spirits of the people by working together on the issues that matter, and this is one issue that matters because there are 30 million small businesses in America. They are the job generators and creators, and if we do not recognize the reality of this type of reform and we cannot get it done, then we have failed to do our jobs.”
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) urged support for Snowe’s amendment: “If you look back at the 1990s, when we had a deficit, and even before, when we had stagflation, it was a combination of a growing economy and better fiscal management that got people back to work and got us out of the deficit and to a surplus. We need to do that again. We need this kind of legislation that will help us create a regulatory environment that stimulates business investment, creates jobs, gets people back to work, and gets the economy growing, and then, with good fiscal restraint, will help us get on top of this huge deficit and our debt. It is vitally important for us now, and it is vitally important for future generations.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) opposed Snowe’s amendment: “I have supported regulatory reform since before my election to the Senate in 1978, to make regulations more sensible and efficient while protecting the public's health and well-being. The Snowe regulatory reform amendment…[would] require that federal agencies consider all potential direct and `indirect economic impacts' of proposed regulations. I will vote against this amendment because it is so broad and undefined. Also, the Snowe amendment would give standing to seek judicial review and seek injunction of a rulemaking while the rule [federal regulation] is still in its draft form…I am concerned that such a change could paralyze the regulatory process, not reform it.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer also opposed the amendment: “…Yes, we want regulations to be sensible; yes, we want them to be flexible; yes, we should work together to make sure our businesses aren't facing undue delays and all the rest and I am very willing to do that. But what I am not willing to do is pass something that has far-reaching impacts. We don't even know what it would mean to the health and safety of our families, and it would absolutely ignore the benefits of regulations that protect our children's health, their safety, their well-being and our working families because a lot of these regulations are meant to protect them.”
The vote on Snowe’s amendment was 53-46. All 47 Republicans present and 6 Democrats voted “yea.” 46 Democrats voted “nay.” While a majority of senators voted in favor of this amendment, 60 votes were required for passage under a “unanimous consent” agreement (literally, an agreement reached among all 100 senators). Since Snowe’s amendment did not receive the support of 60 senators, the measure failed. As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have allowed small businesses to sue federal agencies over regulations that have not yet been finalized, and would also have required federal agencies to consider the “indirect economic impact” of regulations on small businesses.