Congress should move cautiously before approving legislation that would allow lawmakers to overrule proposed regulations of a number of executive departments and independent agencies. This week the Senate cleared such a mischievous measure by a 94 to 0 vote. A slightly different House version has at least 251 sponsors. The effect of such proposals would be to involve Congress in the nitty-gritty day-to-day rulemaking procedure of government.
That not only raises serious constitutional questions about responsibility between the three branches of government under the federal system, but equally serious questions about the extent to which special interest groups could bring pressure on lawmakers to ''veto'' proposed regulatory rules. Currently, federal agencies allow for public hearings and comments on new regulations.
There would seem to be another valid reason for proceeding slowly. The US Supreme Court is expected to rule within the next few months on the constitutionality of a single-house veto. Several federal appeals courts have held that a legislative veto is unconstitutional.
Currently, Congress exercises a veto of sorts in both foreign and domestic policy areas; the former, for example, through the War Powers Resolution, under which lawmakers can turn down a request for US military action abroad; the latter through, for example, authority to overturn proposed rules of the Federal Trade Commission .
Constitutional experts note that lawmakers are given specific responsibilities regarding the conduct of foreign affairs, such as the requirement that Congress must vote on whether or not the US enters into war. And Congress can alter the mandate, structure, and budgets of federal agencies. But the degree to which it can intrude into the regulatory process is uncertain.
Under the Senate measure, a proposed regulation could be vetoed if both chambers of Congress by majority vote enacted resolutions disapproving it. A somewhat similar approach is under consideration in the House.
Beyond constitutional questions about separation of power, there is a more practical reason for opposing this type of intrusion. Congress began establishing regulatory agencies a century ago, precisely because it did not want to become entangled in the ''detail'' of government. That type of day-to-day administration was to be left to ''experts,'' who would base their rules and decisions on enabling legislation provided by Congress. Since then, a massive body of administrative case law has grown up around these agencies.
Since lawmakers have a hard enough time fulfilling their constitutionally assigned task of producing a federal budget, how can they possibly do that - and keep tabs on all the various rulemaking proposals of the federal bureaucracy as well? Is Congress, as one senator recently asked, ''up to the job'' of taking on such an ''enormous load?'' Lawmakers should also think about that as they consider a measure that could lead to profound changes in the administration of government.