|Legislation Tries to Pull the REINS on Federal Regulations|
By Ashton Ellis
Tuesday, March 15 2011
A group of conservative members of Congress is pushing a big change in the way federal administrative agencies impact the economy. Liberal critics charge the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act will make agencies much more dependent on Congress to pass “major” regulations. Conservative supporters agree.
No one familiar with the content of the REINS Act disputes its aim. In its statement of purpose, the bill reads:
The purpose of this Act is to increase accountability for and transparency in the federal regulatory process. Section 1 of article 1 of the United States Constitution grants all legislative powers to Congress. Over time, Congress has excessively delegated its constitutional charge while failing to conduct appropriate oversight and retain accountability for the content of the laws it passes. By requiring a vote in Congress, the REINS Act will result in more carefully drafted and detailed legislation, an improved regulatory process, and a legislative branch that is truly accountable to the American people for the laws imposed upon them.
The body of the legislation goes on to explain that any proposed regulation classified as “major” – i.e. costing the economy $100 million or more – must be approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the president before becoming law.
This strikes statists as crazy. How are experts in the bureaucracy supposed to impose their decisions on America without the power of administrative fiat? Since the New Deal, shielding the agency rulemaking process from the politicians in Congress has been a much-loved achievement in liberal central-planning circles. Supreme Court decisions have given the practice the veneer of legality. But if the REINS Act becomes law, suddenly every consequential federal regulation will be voted on before it can be enforced.
Conservatives emboldened by the Tea Party movement couldn’t agree more. The REINS Act was first introduced last year by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), and re-filed in January by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Like all fiscally responsible legislation in the current Congress, the REINS Act’s best chance is in the House of Representatives where Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) is shepherding it towards passage.
One of the brilliant aspects of the REINS Act is that it actually follows the Constitution’s process for passing legislation. Unsurprisingly, this amounts to a restoration project.
When federal agencies exploded in number during the New Deal, pro-government lawmakers delegated enormous amounts of legislative discretion to executive branch departments. Rejecting the idea of limited government as outdated, liberal elites believed that politicians could only be trusted to empower bureaucrats with broadly worded mandates to regulate. Filling in the details would be up to each agency. That’s why agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have such wide latitude to impose rules on emissions, water and air quality without congressional approval.
The same is true of the Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to implement – or issues waivers from – ObamaCare at whim.
No wonder these power-grab laws are called “enabling” statutes.
The intent of the REINS Act is to reverse the regulatory trend by reintroducing direct congressional oversight to agency rulemaking. Just like a proposed bill in Congress, if a major rule fails to get majority support in both houses, it fails. It would also be defeated if a president issues a veto and Congress fails to override.
In a sign of just how much liberals cherish their monopoly on bureaucratic power, activists inside and outside the government claim that passing the REINS Act would grind agency rulemaking to a halt.
As usual, the liberal hysteria is much ado about nothing. Only about 3 – 5% of all federal rulemakings is considered major, and even that designation is determined by the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an executive branch official.
The real problem for liberals is that the REINS Act returns accountability to political actors in the legislative and executive branches.
For too long, the liberal conceit has been that politics and policy should be separate. The effect robs voters of the means to hold elected officials accountable for the actions of unelected bureaucrats. The REINS Act is a commonsense way to restore the link between the people and the government that ostensibly serves them.
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