President Clinton, trying to steal a march on Republican plans to scale back federal regulation drastically, Thursday announced the first in a series of moves to streamline the way the government regulates drugs, the environment and small business.
Clinton visited a small print shop in Northern Virginia to unveil a number of steps that will reduce business paperwork, consolidate environmental rules and speed the approval of new medical devices and drug-manufacturing techniques.
The event marked the first step in a yearlong campaign to reduce bureaucracy and narrow government intervention in private industry. The effort is being directed by Vice President Al Gore as the second phase of his "reinventing government" initiative.
The choice of a printing operation as the scene of the President's announcement was a barbed dig at Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, the GOP presidential candidate who constantly refers to East Texas printer Dickie Flatt as emblematic of the burdens that the federal government puts on struggling small business owners.
Clinton embraced Custom Print owner Stu McMichael of Arlington, Va., and said that while others talk about cutting government red tape, his Administration is doing something about it. In McMichael's case, the new proposals will simplify his chemical waste reporting requirements.
"I want a government that is limited but effective," Clinton said, "that protects consumers, workers and the environment without burdening business, choking innovation or wasting the money of the American taxpayers."
Under the initiatives announced Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency will cut the paperwork burden on business by a fourth, combine reporting for air, water and solid waste emissions, broaden the ability of businesses to trade pollution credits and allow small businesses a six-month grace period to correct first-time pollution violations.
The Food and Drug Administration will eliminate inspections of minor changes in drug-making techniques, exempt makers of simple devices such as syringes and oxygen masks from pre-market reviews and eliminate the requirement for environmental impact statements for virtually all human and animal drugs.
The proposal would also allow small businesses who violate federal regulations to escape fines if they show good-faith efforts to comply. Another new rule would allow companies to apply money that previously would have been paid in fines to remedial efforts.
Clinton said that the Republican approach--which would freeze all new federal regulations and require detailed cost-benefit analyses of all future federal rules--would endanger consumers and the nation's air and water. The GOP moratorium has passed the House but has not been acted on by the Senate.
His approach, Clinton said, "lacks the sledgehammer subtlety of a moratorium but if we're going to be responsible we ought to fix the problem, not just seek to freeze the problem."
Republicans, not surprisingly, rejected Clinton's initial moves at regulatory reform as too timid.
"It is clear that he isn't serious about reducing the burden of regulations," said Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.), one of the leaders of the House effort to roll back federal rules.
Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the Senate majority leader, said: "Americans are demanding that we get government off their backs by eliminating unnecessary regulations and applying some common sense before enacting regulations that are necessary. President Clinton's proposal today, while welcome, does not address this fundamental problem."
But David Kessler, head of the Food and Drug Administration, said that the Republican regulatory freeze would prevent him from moving forward with new rules for mammogram equipment safety and seafood inspections.
Kessler did not mention, however, the most ambitious regulatory initiative he intends to undertake this year--an effort to regulate the level of nicotine in tobacco products.
Carol Browner, head of the EPA, asserted that the moratorium would halt her efforts to set stricter standards for hazardous waste burning and for levels of deadly bacteria in drinking water.
"Those are just two examples of the kind of rules that we are working very hard to get in place; tough, public health standards, rules that protect our air, our land, our water, common sense and how we achieve those rules," Browner declared at a White House briefing. "We wouldn't be able to do that with a moratorium."
Administration officials said that most of the new Clinton proposals can be accomplished by executive order--rather than by new legislation or regulation--and will have no impact on the federal budget.
Times staff writer Marlene Cimons contributed to this story.