House Passes REINS Bill to Expand Congressional Power Over Executive Regulations

The House on Wednesday approved a measure that would increase Congress’s authority over the executive branch by making any major regulations subject to its approval.

Congress has only successfully wielded its power under the Congressional Review Act once before, in 2001, when it voted to do away with a Department of Labor ergonomics regulation. Photo: Guy Middleton/Flickr

A bill that would give the controlling party of either chamber of Congress veto power over any major new regulation passed the House of Representatives Wednesday.

The REINS Act, H.R. 10, also known as the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, passed the House on a 241-to-184 vote, with four Democrats joining all Republicans present to vote “yes.” The measure was sponsored in January by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.).

The REINS Act is only the latest of a slew of bills aimed at peeling back regulations, which House Republicans have pushed for in the name of cutting red tape and freeing up businesses. The GOP sees the regulations as overbearing rulemaking by unelected bureaucrats.

Under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, Congress already has the power to override proposed regulations by passing a joint “resolution of disapproval.”

But such a resolution faces the hurdle of having to be signed into law by the president, who would likely veto any move to do away with a regulation proposed by his or her own administration.

The president’s veto can be overriden by Congress, but that, of course, takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers. “Who do the regulators answer to? No one,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) in debate on the House floor.

“When the regulators go to work everyday, like most people go to work, their work assignment’s a little different,” Poe said. “In my opinion, they sit around a big oak table, sipping their lattes.”

“They have out their iPads and their computers, and they decide, ‘Who shall we regulate today?’ And they write a regulation and send it out to the masses and make us deal with the cost to that.”

Congress has only successfully wielded its power under the Congressional Review Act once before, in 2001, when it voted to do away with a Department of Labor ergonomics regulation.

The REINS Act would change the process so that major regulations would be contingent on congressional approval — if a majority in each chamber does not vote “yes,” the regulation is not enacted.

Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), argued that if Congress can stop rules in their tracks, businesses will flourish.

“Poll after poll of small business owners, of medium-sized business owners — they will show you and tell you that major regulations are holding back their expansion and the ability of them to hire more workers,” Quayle said.

At a news conference Wednesday morning with House Republican leaders, Davis argued that the bill “has the potential to transform the way Washington does business, to restore us to economic dominance, and to make this an American century.”

“It’s very simple,” he said. “When a rule is scored as a major rule – $100 million or more in cumulative economic impact — instead of it being forced on the American people at the end of the 60-day comment period, it comes back up to Capitol Hill under joint resolution for a stand-alone vote in the House, a stand-alone vote in the Senate, and then must be signed by the president before it can be enforced on the American people.”

The bill would effectively give either chamber a veto on a regulation because leaders could simply not put it on the calendar for a vote, and the rule would expire after 70 congressional working days.

The Senate is unlikely to pass the measure. Democrats contend that the measure would hamper the regulatory process, increase uncertainty and allow Congress to do away with some regulations that are necessary in order to protect consumers.

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat — please to put a dollar in the workers’ hand,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “I urge my colleagues to vote no on this REINS Act, and to get to work to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the American people.”

“Only then will we increase demand in our economy, create jobs, promote economic growth and put money into the pockets of 160 million Americans,” Pelosi said. “Think of the difference that will make instead of putting forth legislation that has no impact on our economic growth is not in furtherance of job creation.”

The White House on Tuesday issued a veto threat against the measure, which it argued would bring about a “radical departure from the longstanding separation of powers” that would “delay and, in many cases, thwart implementation of statutory mandates and execution of duly enacted laws, increase business uncertainty, undermine much-needed protections of the American public, and create unnecessary confusion.”

“By replacing [the current] well-established framework with a blanket requirement of Congressional approval, H.R. 10 would throw all major regulations into a months-long limbo, fostering uncertainty and impeding business investment that is vital to economic growth,” the White House said in its statement. [via Huffington Post and The Washington Post]

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