On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure which would require congressional approval for major regulations. Conservatives argue that it would return oversight to Congress and prevent Obama-sytle job-killing regulations, while liberals worry it would undermine the regulatory state.
House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the bill in a statement, declaring, “We will set in motion a series of reforms to fix the regulatory system itself.” The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would require any regulation which would have an economic impact of $100 million or more to pass Congress and be signed by the president. If the regulation failed to do so after 70 days, it would become null and void.
As Ryan argued, the REINS Act “will provide more accountability and transparency before major rules or regulations take effect,” and “help make sure the government gets it right.”
The bill passed with a 237 to 187 vote on Thursday. From there it will move into the U.S. Senate, where legislative procedure will allow the Democratic minority to mount powerful opposition to the bill.
President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to sign the bill, should it reach his desk. “I will sign the REINS Act should it reach my desk as President and more importantly I will work hard to get it passed,” Trump told American Commitment President Phil Kerpen in a statement. “The monstrosity that is the Federal Government with its pages and pages of rules and regulations has been a disaster for the American economy and job growth. The REINS Act is one major step toward getting our government under control.”
While the Senate’s powerful Democratic minority is the major roadblock for the bill — the REINS Act would require 60 votes to pass the chamber, and while Republicans have a 52-seat majority, Democrats effectively have 48 votes — some conservative groups welcomed the chance to hold Senate Democrats accountable for stopping the legislation.
“I want the Senate to spend time on these bills because I want senators held accountable on votes for these things,” Andy Koenig, vice president of policy at Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, told PJ Media in an email statement. Koenig noted that many Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 will be running in states that Donald Trump won last year.
Koenig argued that Democrats will struggle politically, “especially if they are voting to protect a legacy of regulations that has hurt their constituents.”
Indeed, this law is vital. President Obama’s lame duck administration passed 18 new regulations for every new law passed by Congress in 2016, according to a report by The Washington Examiner‘s Paul Bedard. Congress only passed 211 laws last year, while Obama’s administration issued 3,852 federal regulations, some costing billions of dollars.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reported that the Federal Register printed 97,110 new pages of regulations last year. The annual “Unconstitutional Index” from Clyde Wayne Crews, CEI vice president for policy, found that the Obama administration steamrolled Congress with rulemaking to a higher degree than President George W. Bush’s had done. “Agencies do the bulk of lawmaking, no matter the party in power,” Crews wrote.
The system works like this: Congress passes laws “meant for very narrow purposes,” but administrations decide to interpret them broadly to pass wide-ranging regulations, the Freedom Partners vice president explained. Now, many regulations are caught up in the courts because they are constitutionally dubious.
Congress actually benefits from the system, as Senator Mike Lee explained in 2015. Lawmakers pass a bill, such as the Clean Air Act, states a basic truism, like “America wants clean air,” and then establishes an administrative agency to achieve it. Congress gets all the credit for cleaning up the air, and none of the blame when regulations inevitably cause problems for businesses and the American people. The REINS Act would make Congress accountable for the regulations, and keep presidents from forcing their agenda by reinterpreting laws.
“President Obama especially, but presidents before him as well, have taken a very broad interpretation of legislation passed decades ago, to circumvent Congress and the power that they’ve been imbued with in the Constitution, in order to foist regulatory controls on individuals, on businesses, on families, on consumers, that hurt the economy,” Koenig said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that economic growth has been at 1.5 percent at the same time we’ve seen an unprecedented onslaught of new regulations under the Obama administration.”
In addition to the REINS Act, Freedom Partners supports wide-ranging regulatory repeal. The organization published a “Roadmap to Repeal” on Friday, listing specific regulations the Trump administration and the new Congress should target, and tips on how to do so.
Democrats are vehemently opposed to such reforms, however.
Michigan Representative John Conyers, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, attacked the REINS Act as “gumming-the-works legislation,” arguing that it would impose unworkable deadlines and would “end rulemaking as we know it.” Many conservatives and Constitution advocates would consider that an argument for the bill, not against it.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been one of the most outspoken left-wing groups opposing the bill. NRDC Government Affairs Director David Goldston attacked the REINS Act as “radical in concept” and “perilous in execution.”
“The bill could, in effect, impose a slow-motion government shutdown, and it would replace a process based on expertise, rationality and openness with one characterized by political maneuvering, economic clout and secrecy,” Golston argued. “The public would be less protected, and the political system would be more abused. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more far-reaching, fundamental and damaging shift in the way government goes about its business of safeguarding the public.”
Diane Katz, senior research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation, actually argued that the REINS Act would help the environment, rather than harming it. “Congress and regulators have failed to set priorities in environmental protection,” Katz told PJ Media in an email statement. “If anything, a narrower regulatory pipeline could mean (hopefully!) that the agencies and Congress focus on the most important environmental issues.”
Daren Bakst, a research fellow at the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, dismissed “such scare tactics about the REINS Act hurting the environment” as “a red herring.” In an email statement to PJ Media, Bakst explained that “the law simply allows Congress to have a say in major rules that impact our lives, including those that impact the government.”
Bakst argued that returning rulemaking power to Congress would hold the bureaucracy more accountable to the people. “If elected and accountable officials, as opposed to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, deem a rule should not be approved, this is our democratic system in action,” he said.
More importantly, the REINS Act would restore some of the lawmaking power the Constitution reserves for Congress alone. “Lawmaking power resides in the legislative branch,” Bakst noted. “Unfortunately, for many years, Congress has inappropriately delegated away much of this power to agencies, and not surprising agencies have run away with this power, exceeding statutory authority. The REINS Act is a critical way for Congress to regain some of its legislative power.”
While people like Goldston might argue that rules like the REINS Act undermine the regulatory state, Bakst would disagree. “Let me stress: agencies have the power to issue rules in the first place because Congress allowed them to do so. The REINS Act is simply a way for Congress to address its own lawmaking power, expressly granted to it by the U.S. Constitution.”
But beyond efforts to hold the government more accountable to the people and to the Constitution, the REINS Act could provide a much-needed economic boost.
“If we are going to get our economy back on track, we need to get people the freedom they need,” House Speaker Ryan declared. “We need to get government out of the way of hardworking people so that we can create jobs in this country. This is what regulatory reform is all about, and it will be one of the highest priorities of this new unified Republican government.”
Watch Paul Ryan’s statement below.