By a 245 to 174 margin, the U.S. House this week passed the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act of 2015, also known as the SCRUB Act.

The legislation seeks to address the perpetual growth of federal regulations, as federal agencies issue new rules each year, but rarely scrap the old ones. Over time, the Code of Regulations (CFR), the corpus of all in-effect federal rules, has growth to more than 175,000 pages.

pages in cfr

Chart created by R Street Institute from data at http://regulatorystudies.columbian.gwu.edu/reg-stats.

This “regulatory accumulation” inflicts costs, notes Patrick McLaughlin of George Mason University, manifesting in “high barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, which decreases economic growth.” The proliferation of regulations prompts businesses to hire lawyers and lobbyists to keep watch for new regulations and to ensure the firm does not violate any rules.

Congress has considered various ways to tackle this issue of regulatory aggregation. It could, for instance, set expiration dates for all regulations. It also could cap the number or cost of regulations an agency can issue in a given year, an approach known as “regulatory budgeting.” Then there are proposals to do something similar to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) approach, under which a bipartisan commission would identify unworthy regulations and submit them en masse to Congress for a single up-or-down vote.

The SCRUB Act, which passed the House nearly a year after it first was introduced by Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., incorporates all three of these policies. H.R. 1155 would:

  • Establish a bipartisan, presidentially appointed Retrospective Regulatory Review Commission, which would scour the CFR for regulations that should be repealed. The commission’s goal would be to excise enough regulations to reduce overall regulatory costs by 15 percent;
  • Mandate that agencies offset new rules by abolishing old rules identified by the Retrospective Regulatory Review Commission; and
  • Require agencies issuing new regulations to conduct look-back reviews after 10 years. Although not a true “sunset” requirement, these post-hoc assessments would force agencies to publicly determine if their rules were working.

Having successfully passed the House, despite garnering only six Democratic votes there, the bill now moves on to the Senate. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced a version of the SCRUB Act in June 2015 as S. 1683.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s regulatory subcommittee held a hearing on the measure last September, but has yet to schedule a markup.