As one of its first official acts in 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017, also called the REINS Act. The bill, passed on Jan. 5, would require Congress to approve all new major regulations, which it defines as any regulation imposing $100 million or more in costs on the economy.
The REINS Act is a good start, an antidote to the disease of overregulation currently ailing this economy. While some regulations may protect human health or the environment, many — especially in energy and environmental policy — provide no or minimal measurable benefits while imposing huge costs. The rules are designed to expand the budgets and power of bureaucrats and are simply “make work” that create lifetime employment for agency staff.
Unfortunately, past Congresses found it easy to delegate lawmaking power to executive agencies. Congress gets credit for passing vague, feel-good laws, leaving the hard details of writing the rules and enforcing the laws to administrative agencies. When agencies go overboard, members of Congress typically wash their hands of the affair, claiming they never intended for a negative outcome and assailing the agency for going beyond what lawmakers intended.
In a statement issued along with the introduction the bill, Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican, said the REINS Act is meant to limit unnecessary, costly regulations and hold the executive branch and Congress accountable to the people.
“The REINS Act is one of the first bills of this Congress to target the regulatory abuses of the executive branch. For too long, executive overreach has fostered burdensome regulations that hamper growth at the expense of hardworking Americans,” Mr. Collins said in the statement. “It’s time Congress reasserts its constitutional authority to legislate, rather than letting unelected bureaucrats institute rules that impact the economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Congress already had the power to review and block major regulations through the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996, but it has rarely used that power. The CRA allowed the House and the Senate to pass resolutions of disapproval to block major regulations. Despite tens of thousands of regulations being enacted in the 20 years since the CRA passed, Congress used it fewer than a half-dozen times to block new rules, and only once has a president signed the resolution. President Obama vetoed the only two disapproval resolutions passed during his presidency.
Under the CRA, unless Congress disapproves of a rule, the regulation becomes law by default. The REINS Act would reverse this, canceling any major regulation Congress does not explicitly approve.
The REINS Act is particularly important because of the damage regulations can cause. Regulations limit personal freedom and impose trillions of dollars in costs upon the economy each year.
A recent study by the American Action Forum found under the Obama administration, the pace and costs of major regulations soared. According to the study, since Mr. Obama took office in 2009, the federal government has issued 600 major regulations — about one major rule every four or five days — which, combined, imposed more than $743 billion on the economy. The Obama administration implemented more major regulations in six years than President George W. Bush did during his eight years in office. The cost of only the major regulations approved by Mr. Obama impose the equivalent of $2,294 in regulatory costs on every person in the United States each year. In a household of four, that’s nearly $10,000 that’s now unavailable to pay for health insurance, medicine or medical bills, college expenses, groceries, a new car, vacations and many other expenses.
President Trump addressed the REINS Act directly in a statement he gave to the public policy group American Commitment, pledging to work on behalf of passage of the REINS Act and to sign it into law if Congress passes it.
“I will sign the REINS Act should it reach my desk as president and more importantly I will work hard to get it passed,” said Mr. Trump’s 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.”
The REINS Act still must pass the Senate, where, at the present time, there is more resistance to accountability and reform. However, with the election of political outsider Donald Trump, the public delivered a strong signal the American people are tired of the status quo in Washington. Unless the Senate wants to wind up as another part of the swamp that will be drained under the Trump administration, members should recognize elections matter and take responsibility for their actions by passing the REINS Act.
• H. Sterling Burnett is a research fellow on energy and the environment at the Heartland Institute.