While the summer recess in Congress is only one week away, the silly nonsense that House Republicans have planned for this week will make you wish that they were already gone.
Under the guise of what House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has dubbed the “Stop Government Abuse” week, the House will be voting on a very dangerous bill called the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, or “REINS” Act (H.R. 367). If REINS sounds familiar to readers, it’s because House Republicans have pulled this stunt before, passing REINS in 2011 on a party line vote.
Fortunately, the Senate wasn’t interested then, and isn’t interested now, in playing games with an extreme bill like REINS, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans in the House from adding REINS to the long string of symbolic votes (37 on repealing Obamacare alone) that has made the House the ultimate “broken record chorus.”
So what exactly is this so-called “government abuse” that REINS is intended to prevent?
If REINS became law, it would establish a process by which House Republicans would be able to single-handedly block our federal agencies from putting new public health and safety standards in place. The full impact of this cannot be understated. We’re talking about public protections that span the spectrum, including new greenhouse gas standards to combat climate change, new financial reforms that hold Wall Street accountable, new food safety measures designed to address the recent tainted food outbreaks, new workplace safety standards and updates to badly outdated ones, new safety standards for consumer products such as children’s toys, and the list goes on and on.
The way enactment of the REINS Act enables House Republicans to obstruct federal agencies is very simple: REINS requires the House, the Senate, and the President to all approve major regulations (those that meet the low threshold of $100 million in impact annually, about 80-100 of the most beneficial regulations per year) within a short window of 70 legislative days. If that doesn’t happen, the regulation — and the benefits it would provide — ceases to exist.
This means that if House Republicans oppose a particular regulation, they would have the power to unilaterally kill it.
This is a dream come true scenario for House Republicans and anti-regulatory special interests, and a worst-case scenario for the public and agencies trying to prevent the next massive deregulatory failure.
Under REINS, Republicans in the House would be in the driver’s seat on regulatory policy, deciding what, if any, future regulatory standards survive. The same dysfunction and gridlock in the legislative arena that have driven approval ratings for Congress to historic lows would now be the status quo for the regulatory arena. By allowing only one chamber in one branch of government to unilaterally veto new regulations, democratic accountability over the regulatory process would reach new lows. Essentially, REINS is an over the top, draconian piece of legislation that fixes a fabricated problem with a solution that would be laughable, if it wasn’t so dangerous.
The good news is that while House Republicans will be repeating stale talking points about regulators run amok and promoting nonsensical legislation to fix a nonexistent problem, one Senate committee will finally be taking a sober look at the real problem currently plaguing federal agencies: regulatory paralysis.
As Public Citizen has pointed out before, the current regulatory process that agencies must follow when instituting new regulations authorized by Congress is a true model of inefficiency, with a dizzying array of duplicative and redundant requirements that amounts to a virtual maze for agencies to navigate.
This visual depiction of the process we put together makes the point clear as day, and you don’t have to look very hard to see the tragic impacts. It’s been three years since the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law was passed and now five years since the financial collapse, and still only a little over a third of the financial reforms have been put in place. In January of 2011, The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed, yet two and a half years later, none of the new food safety rules have been finalized and tainted food scandals still occur regularly. Public Citizen’s report on delayed regulations from last year paints a troubling picture, to say the least.
These and other examples of regulatory delays will be examined by a newly formed Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in a hearing tomorrow entitled “Justice Delayed: The Human Cost of Regulatory Paralysis.”
The Senate hearing will be an antidote to the endless House Republican led hearings that take a one-sided view on regulations, willfully ignoring the benefits, and trumping up the costs to our economy based on little more than anecdote and conjecture (and certainly not empirical evidence). This subcommittee, chaired by Senator Blumenthal (D-Conn.), is a much-needed new voice shedding light on the real problems in our regulatory system, and readers of this blog can expect to hear about important and informative hearings that the subcommittee will be holding over the next several months.
Amit Narang is the regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.