5 reasons to support the REINS Act

male rider holding the reins of a brown horse

The House is likely to vote this week on H.R. 427, the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act, also known as the REINS Act. Introduced by Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., the bill would require Congress and the president to approve major regulations (those with an economic effect of $100 million or more) before they could take effect. Congress would be granted 70 days to vote affirmatively to adopt such regulations. If it did not, the president temporarily could deem the regulation effective if national security or the public health or safety was imperiled.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm. The House overwhelmingly passed the legislation in 2011 and 2013, only to see it die in the then-majority Democratic Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has complained about ill-conceived regulation, has not yet said whether the Senate would take up its version of the REINS Act (S. 226), introduced by the junior senator from his state, Rand Paul.

There are at least five reasons why Congress should pass the REINS Act.

  1. Democratic accountability. Each year, about 4,000 new regulations take effect. Regulations have the force of law, and agencies that issue regulations usually are empowered to enforce them with fines and other penalties. Individuals who dislike a regulation are without recourse—they cannot vote regulators out of office. The Constitution declares: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The REINS Act would force Congress to take responsibility for the enactment of the largest and most economically significant regulations, thereby restoring some democratic accountability.
  1. Democratic equality. Who participates in federal rulemaking? Mostly, elites do. Regulations are proposed by unelected employees at federal agencies. Their final form is shaped through input from lobbyists and interest groups. Average citizens and their representatives seldom submit their own comments to an agency proposing a rule. The REINS Act would interject democracy into rulemaking by making the people’s representatives participate in regulatory policy.
  1. Oversight. The U.S. Constitution establishes a principal-agent relationship between the first and second branches of government. Congress legislates, and the executive effectuates the laws. The REINS Act would force Congress to spend more time overseeing the work of regulators to ensure they faithfully execute the law (and less time naming post offices and passing feel-good commemorative bills.)
  1. Reducing errors. Regulators do make mistakes. Under the present system, a private party has to file a lawsuit to get the problem fixed. Court challenges, in fact, have invalidated more than a dozen regulations in recent years, issued by agencies ranging from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Subjecting regulations to congressional review before they become law may prevent some errors and the costs thereof.
  1. Improving implementation. Current regulatory policymaking is dysfunctional. Congress delegates authority to agencies to implement a law, then yells when the regulations are not to its liking. Meanwhile, the American public foots the bill. Good policy implementation requires dialogue between lawmakers and agencies. This is why most states conduct legislative review of regulations before they take effect. Connecticut, for example, has a Legislative Regulation Review Committee. Michigan similarly has a Joint Committee on Rules that can disapprove rules.
  • awabrams

    on the face of it, this strikes me as a bad idea, and likely source of more mischief and posturing. more directly, it sounds like a stalking horse to kneecap the EPA, or derail any policy to regulate carbon emissions.

    regardless–the impact of regulations–not only in terms of cost–but myriad other factors as well–should be taken in consideration in the planning phase–not at the back end. moreover, agency policies should be under the purview of the executive branch. Elections have consequences…

    • Yes, I agree that the costs/benefits of regs are important to calculate—both the agency doing it should provide their calculations, and some independent outside should check these calculations. And there should be more retrospective review of regulations’ costs and benefits to determine which are working well and which are not.

  • Paul

    This is a process change that would significantly tilt the scales in American politics and is just designed to give anti-regulatory politicians extra opportunities to oppose things. It allows a Republican Congress to stop a Democratic administration’s decision to regulate something but doesn’t give a Democratic Congress the ability to overturn a Republican administration’s decision not to regulate something or to scale back a rule. Congress already has the ability to pass legislation outlining the existence of and scope of agencies, Congress has oversight of agencies, Congress can de-fund agencies; they have plenty of opportunities to influence regulations. You simply want to give Congress a veto over Democratic presidents.

    • So, you prefer to leave matters in the hands of unelected, often tenured-for-life bureaucrats rather than allow the people’s representatives a bit more of a say? I, obviously, cast my lot with the Congress, who must face the voters. Regs, it is worth adding, are pretty diverse—they are not inherently left or right. Regs can expand or contract the ability of the govt or companies or people to do things.

  • Mort Rosenberg

    What president in his right mind, Republican or Democrat, would sign a bill that gives the Congress (or one House) the power, by non-action, to stall any significant proposed regulatory action and thereby forego his/her current authority to determine the content and timing on most significant agency regulatory actions through OIRA? The disaster of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) can be somewhat ameliorated by taking internal institutional actions not subject to presidential veto: first, establish a joint committee with authority to assess the efficacy (cost-benefit, compliance with congressional intent, etc ) of a covered final rule reported under CRA and to recommend to jurisdictional committees that consideration of a joint resolution of disapproval under the be considered; second, have the House provide by internal rule that a joint resolution of disapproval receive the same kind of expedited consideration that now obtains in the Senate; and third, establish by rule in each House the availability of a point of order with respect to the annual appropriation of any agency that has promulgated and put into effect a rule that has been made subject to a resolution of disapproval that has been vetoed by a president. That might shake things up a bit.

    • I very much agree with you about establishing a joint committee, Mort. Let’s talk. Drop me a line at kkosar [at] rstreet.org !

  • James Michael

    It needs to happen. You can’t have every agency in the state department getting a pound of flesh. They are too desperate to assert their power and claim relevance.

  • Beverly

    Congress already has the power of the purse to stop these agencies. Since these agencies are supposed to report to Congress on a yearly basis on their activities, they should know what these agencies are up to. Congress has given up control and that is where the fault lies. Carter is trying to make himself look good. The guy says he does not support amnesty but wants to adjudicate the millions of illegals.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting! True—they should know, but they often do not. Tis is because the executive branch is massive—it issues a few thousands regs per year, including the “significant” ones. Keeping track of them all is very difficult.


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