A new bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 7 would effectively shut down Obama’s executive branch agencies when it comes to any new rules or regulations. The Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would require both houses of Congress to vote on any executive branch decision that might cost more than $100 million dollars in cumulative economic impact (meaning cost to anyone). Any rule or regulation not voted upon within 70 days of its finalization would not be implemented.
The bill’s proponents are unabashedly targeting clean air and clean water regulations coming out of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as their example of big government run amok. Recent campaign ads have compared EPA employees to aliens working to colonize the planet and Michelle Bachmann has promised that “EPA will have doors locked and lights turned off” if she becomes president.
Congress already has the power to block regulations coming out of EPA, the Food & Drug Administration, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and all the other executive branch agencies, but not with a simple majority vote. In 1996, Congress passed the Congressional Review Act, enabling a “resolution of disapproval” from both houses of Congress to override proposed regulations.
However, under the Congressional Review Act a resolution stopping an executive branch rule would need to be signed by the president, who would likely veto any such bill. To override a presidential veto, opponents of a regulation would need a two thirds majority in both the House and Senate. Congress has only managed this once since 1996, in 2001 to block ergonomics regulations out of the Department of Labor.
The REINS Act would turn Congressional oversight process on its head, requiring a vote on nearly every regulatory major initiative out of the agencies in order for them to proceed. One of the ironies of the bill is that it is the job of the federal agencies to implement laws passed by Congress.
The regulations coming out of EPA are mandated by laws like the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Congress discovered over time that complicated, scientific rule making was really not its strength and delegated those tasks to agencies overseen by the president. David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council explains: “The bill could, in effect, impose a slow-motion government shutdown, and it would replace a process based on expertise, rationality and openness with one characterized by political maneuvering, economic clout and secrecy.”
While it’s unlikely that the Senate will take up the measure and pretty certain that President Obama would veto it, this kind of legislative nonsense is turning up attached to all of the must-pass of budget bills. “I continue to be disappointed that House Republicans are wasting Congress’s time on ideologically-driven bills to erode federal protections for consumers and communities instead of working on a plan to create jobs,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.
“The REINS Act would undermine our ability to protect children from harmful toys, prevent asthma and lung ailments resulting from pollution, and ensure that our small businesses can compete fairly in the marketplace,” he added. “At the same time, it would force Congress to play a larger role in the regulatory process, leading to even more gridlock in Washington.”
(supporting important pending government regulations that REINS Act supporters would block)
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