H. Sterling Burnett
As one of its first official acts of the 115th Congress, on January 5, the U.S. House of Representative passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017 (H.R. 26), referred to as the REINS Act. The bill requires Congress to approve all new major regulations, meaning any regulation having an impact of $100 million or more on the economy.
The REINS Act is a good start – an antidote to the disease of over-regulation ailing the nation. While some regulations may protect human health or the environment, many – especially in the area of climate, energy, and environmental policy – provide no or minimal measurable benefits while imposing huge costs on people and the economy.
Rules are commonly designed to expand agency budgets, increase the power bureaucrats have over peoples’ lives, and create lifetime employment for agency staff.
Unfortunately, decades ago Congress found it easy to delegate its law-making power to executive agencies. Congress gets credit for passing vague, feel-good laws, leaving to administrative agencies the hard details of writing the rules and enforcing the laws. When agencies go overboard, members of Congress typically complain but do little to change things.
If Congress is required to approve any major regulation, agencies will have an incentive to consider what Congress will actually approve based on what the law says, not just impose what they can get away with. In itself, this change in incentives should rein in the most egregious attempts at illegal, burdensome, unjustified agency action.
Congress already has the power to review and block major regulations through the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996, but it rarely uses that power. CRA allows the House and Senate to pass resolutions of disapproval to block major regulations. Despite tens of thousands of regulations being enacted in the 20 years since CRA became law, Congress used it fewer than half-a-dozen times to block new rules. Only once has a president signed the resolution adopted by Congress. During Barack Obama’s presidency, only two disapproval resolutions were passed by Congress under CRA, and Obama vetoed them both.
Under CRA, unless Congress disapproves of a rule, the regulation becomes law by default. The REINS Act would reverse this, cancelling any major regulation Congress does not explicitly approve.
A recent study by the American Action Forum finds the pace and costs of major regulations have soared under Obama. According to the study, since Obama took office in 2009, the federal government has issued 600 major regulations imposing more than $743 billion on the economy, about one major rule every four or five days. The Obama administration implemented more major regulations in six years than President George W. Bush did during his eight years in office. The major regulations approved by Obama impose the equivalent of $2,294 in regulatory costs on every person in the United States every year. For a household of four, this amounts to nearly $10,000 unavailable for health insurance, medicine or medical bills, college, groceries, a new car, a vacation, or other expenses.
And all these regulatory costs offer little or no benefit, especially with rules flowing from the Environmental Protection Agency, which produce few public health or environmental benefits while imposing high costs. Indeed, some EPA regulations cause more premature deaths than they prevent.
For example, regulations imposed by the Obama administration to fight purported climate change – including the Clean Power Plan, increased fuel efficiency standards, bans on offshore oil production in the North Atlantic and Arctic, and limits on methane emissions from oil and gas production on public lands – increase the cost of energy to consumers and businesses and make the country less energy secure. They will do nothing to prevent purported human-caused global warming. Worse, the regulations are likely to result in thousands of premature deaths as they push more people into poverty.
These and other Obama regulations would never have been enacted had the REINS Act been in place.
President Donald Trump supported the REINS Act in a campaign statement he gave to the public policy group, American Commitment.
“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 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 has to get through the Senate, where there is more resistance to accountability and reform. However, with the election of political outsider Donald Trump as president, the public gave a strong signal they are tired of business as usual. Unless Senators want to wind up part of the swamp drained under Trump’s presidency, they must take responsibility for their actions by passing the REINS Act.
SOURCES: Freedom Works, The Heartland Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and Natural News