Stearns to lead analysis of health law

Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 1:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 1:41 p.m.

As the new Republican majority takes charge in the House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns might play a pivotal role in helping GOP lawmakers achieve their goal of rolling back many Obama administration initiatives.

Stearns’ bid to lead the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee fell short in December, when House Republicans chose Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan to head the panel.

Still, Stearns landed a key assignment as the chairman of the committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, which has initial jurisdiction over legislation pertaining to health care, energy, foreign and domestic commerce, telecommunications and the environment.

Upon being named to the post, Stearns promised vigorous action to rein in excessive federal regulations, hold all federal agencies accountable, and increase transparency within the private sector.

“We are arranging an aggressive and rigorous series of subcommittee hearings in the next Congress where my priority will be on job creation and removing government barriers to economic growth,” he said in a statement.

And the Ocala Republican, whose district includes part of Alachua County, already knows where he’ll start: the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, created by the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare reform law signed by President Obama.

The agency is responsible for setting up the state-managed healthcare exchanges under which individuals and small businesses will purchase coverage, monitors how much of their clients’ premiums health insurers spend on care, and regulates compliance of the law’s provisions that ensure coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

“This office instructs insurers what they can and cannot do, but has no congressional authorization or dedicated source of funding,” Stearns noted. “I would like to determine its impact on small businesses and how it is funded.”

Stearns also intends to tackle new Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

Upton, in media interviews, has said this a top priority for his committee.

According to the Reuters news service, at least 15 states, including Florida, and companies have challenged the rules, which the EPA based on an “endangerment finding” in 2009.

The agency, in the wake of Congress’ failed attempt to pass climate change legislation, declared that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and welfare.

The EPA began earlier this week phasing in the new regulations on utility companies, refineries and other major manufacturers.

Those early rules will apply to companies with plans to construct new facilities or overhaul existing plants.

EPA officials indicate that about 400 such plants will be affected each year in the opening phase of the program, The New York Times reported.

Ceilings on greenhouse gas emissions for power plants and refineries are expected to come in 2012.

Reuters noted that 16 states, including New York and California, support the EPA.

Stearns said the EPA announced the endangerment finding “without regard to its economic impact.”

“This decision,” he added, “gives the EPA unprecedented regulatory control over everything from power plants to automobiles and could cripple the economy.”

Bill Thompson can be reached at 867-4117.

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