Senate Considers REINS Act

Published July 23, 2017

A bill to require congressional approval and a presidential signature before federal agencies can make significant regulatory rule changes is under consideration by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed S. 21, the Senate version of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act) of 2017, on May 17.

The House of Representative approved its version, H.R. 26, on January 5. The Senate had not scheduled a vote on its bill at press time.

Do Your Job!

Diane Katz, a research fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, says lawmakers should do their constitutional duty and hold regulatory agencies accountable.

“The purpose of REINS is to impose accountability on Congress,” Katz said. “Part of the blame for excessive regulation falls upon Congress, for repeatedly delegating its powers to regulatory agencies. REINS would help to curtail that delegation by forcing Congress to vote on every major regulation. That accountability is not something that the executive branch or the judicial branch can impose on Congress.”

Supporters of greater accountability and more regulatory oversight shouldn’t start celebrating just yet, Katz says.

“I wouldn’t assume that it will pass,” Katz said. “The Senate has shown very little interest in taking it up. However, if it did pass, agencies could sidestep the requirements by declaring a rule [is] vital for public health and safety or necessary to protect national security.”

Evading Oversight

There’s another loophole through which government bureaucrats could evade REINS oversight, Katz says.

“The other possibility would be for agencies to undervalue the cost of a rule, below $100 million annually, because REINS would only apply to ‘major’ rules—those costing the private sector more than $100 million annually,” Katz said. “EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency], in particular, lowballs the costs of rules frequently.”

Katz says REINS is a good start but more reforms are necessary to rein in the regulatory agencies.

“There are a host of other reforms that need to be enacted,” Katz said. “I suppose the only change I would make to REINS, assuming it would still pass, would be to tighten the potential loopholes by requiring independent certification of the need for exception to the rule.”

‘Most Significant Regulatory Reform’

Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, a nonprofit group dedicated to restoring and protecting free-market values, says REINS is the biggest regulatory reform ever proposed.

“I think that the REINS Act is the single most significant regulatory reform that has been proposed in Congress, because it is the only one that fundamentally changes the process problem we have,” Kerpen said.

Unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats in government agencies have too much power, Kerpen says.

“The most important decisions for the future of our economy have been made, not by our elected officials in the process described in the Constitution,” Kerpen said. “Rather, they have been made by this backwards, inverted process where the bureaucrats and the regulators essentially have free rein.”