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March 01, 2013
Rand dusts off REINS

Capitol Hill lawmakers with a deep distrust of executive power are standing behind the draft Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2013 (REINS Act).  The bill would require that all major rules proposed by an executive agency receive the approval of both chambers of Congress before they could take effect.

“The REINS Act effectively constrains the President’s authority by limiting the size and scope of rulemaking permissions,” said Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the bill’s sponsor who also introduced the REINS Act in 2012.  Twenty-one senators are co-sponsoring the legislation.  The House of Representatives passed its own version of the REINS Act in 2012, but the bill did not clear the Senate.

Excessive delegation

The premise of the bill is that Congress alone holds the power to pass laws, but over time has “excessively delegated its constitutional charge while failing to conduct appropriate oversight and retain accountability for the content of the laws it passes.”  Translated, this means that major rules issued by agencies such as the EPA have such a profound impact on the American economy and way of life that they have the same effect as congressionally authorized laws.

The bill states:  “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 people of the United States for the laws imposed upon them.”

Major rules

The bill would retain the definition of a “major rule” currently used by federal agencies, specifically, an action that is likely to result in:

  • An annual effect on the economy of  $100,000,000 or more,
  • A major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, federal, state, or local government agencies, or geographic regions, or
  • Significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic and export markets.

The Agency responsible for the bill would be required to submit it to both chambers along with a list of related regulatory actions intended to implement the same statutory provision or regulatory objective as well as the individual and aggregate economic effects of those actions.  The bill would take effect only upon enactment of a joint resolution.  Joint resolutions require two-thirds approval in both houses.  If the joint resolution is not enacted after 70 session days, the rule would be considered not approved and may not take effect. Exceptions to the requirement for a joint resolution would be allowed by presidential order in the cases of imminent threat to health or safety or for other emergencies. 

Subject to filibuster

In 2012, the prospect of the REINS Act horrified the liberal community.  For example, the Center for American Progress noted that the joint resolution would be subject to filibuster in the Senate; thus, a senator could single-handedly block a major rule that aims to limit harmful air emissions.  The Center also argued that members of Congress possess neither the expertise nor the time to evaluate major rules, and, moreover, Congress already has the authority under the Congressional Review Act of 1996 to review new federal regulations and pass joint resolutions to overrule them.  That authority was exercised in 2001 when both chambers agreed to overturn an ergonomics standard issued by OSHA.

Click here for the text of the REINS Act.

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