House Acts to Rein in Regulatory Agencies

Published January 24, 2017

As one of the first official acts of the 115th Congress, the U.S. House of Representative voted in favor of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017, known as the REINS Act.

The bill, passed on January 5, requires congressional approval of all new major regulations, which is defined as any regulation imposing $100 million or more in regulatory costs on the economy.

In his statement upon introducing the bill, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) said the REINS Act was aimed at limiting unnecessary, costly regulations and holding both the executive branch and Congress more accountable to the people.

“The REINS Act is one of the first bills of this Congress to target the regulatory abuses of the executive branch,” Collins said in his statement. “For too long, executive overreach has fostered burdensome regulations that hamper growth at the expense of hardworking Americans. It’s time Congress reasserts its Constitutional authority to legislate, rather than letting unelected bureaucrats institute rules that impact the economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Restoring Balance of Power

James Gattuso, a senior fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, says the REINS Act is needed to reestablish the proper constitutional balance of power between Congress and the executive branch.

“The REINS Act simply reestablishes the constitutional division of power,” Gattuso said. “Article I [of the U.S. Constitution] gives Congress, not regulatory agencies, the authority to establish the rules we live by, but Congress today plays second fiddle to unelected bureaucrats in a dizzying array of agencies.

“This not only gives regulators undue power, [it] allows Congress to escape accountability for the impact of the rules imposed on Americans,” Gattuso said.

CRA Proved Ineffective

Congress has the power to review and block major regulations through the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996, which allows the House and the Senate to block major regulations by passing resolutions of disapproval. Congress has used it less than a half-dozen times, and only once has a president signed such a resolution. President Barack Obama vetoed the only two disapproval resolutions passed during his presidency.

Under CRA, unless Congress disapproves of a rule and the president signs the resolution or the Senate overcomes a president’s veto of its disapproval, a regulation becomes law by default. The REINS Act would reverse this, cancelling any major regulation Congress does not explicitly approve.

Growing Regulatory Burden

According to the 2016 edition of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Ten Thousand Commandments report, regulations imposed $1.885 trillion in economic costs on the economy in 2015.

A 2016 study by the American Action Forum found the pace and costs of major regulations soared under Obama. Since Obama took office in 2009, the federal government issued 600 major regulations, imposing more than $743 billion in costs on the economy, about one major rule every four or five days, the study found. The Obama administration implemented more major regulations in its first six years than President George W. Bush did during his eight years in office.

In response to a survey sent to the presidential candidates during the primaries in early 2016 by the policy group American Commitment, President Donald Trump pledged to work for passage of the REINS Act and to sign it into law if Congress passes it.

“I will sign the REINS Act should it reach my desk as president and more importantly I will work hard to get it passed,” said Trump’s survey response. “The monstrosity that is the Federal Government with its pages and pages of rules and regulations has been a disaster for the American economy and job growth. The REINS Act is one major step toward getting our government under control.”

Reestablishing Constitutional Roles

Clyde Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says the REINS Act would deliver power back to Congress, where it belongs.

“The REINS Act is fundamentally a reaffirmation of the constitutional principle that it is the elected Congress, not unelected agencies, that makes law in the United States of America,” said Crews. “In 2016, executive agencies issued 18 rules for every law.

“It is a good thing the 115th Congress passed the REINS Act,” Crews said. “Now, action moves to the Senate, where the same enthusiasm is not to be found, at least not yet.”

Gattuso warns there is still hard work ahead before the REINS Act becomes law.

“The REINS Act has an excellent chance of enactment this year,” said Gattuso. “But getting the bill over the finish line is still difficult. No one should be counting chickens here yet.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.


Sam Batkins, “600 Major Regulations,” American Action Forum, August 2016: