Every new session of Congress is a new chance to enact substantive regulatory reform. This post inaugurates an occasional series highlighting reform bills that have been introduced this Congress, or are likely to be. The first bill we will cover is the REINS Act, which stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny. It would require Congress to vote on all new major regulations.
REINS is a separation of powers bill. In the big picture, the legislative branch is supposed to make legislation, and the executive branch is supposed to execute it; hence their names. That distinction has blurred over the last several decades.
In 2022, for example, for each bill Congress passed, agencies issued 23 new regulations. My colleague Wayne Crews calls this number the “Unconstitutionality Index” in his Ten Thousand Commandments annual report. A healthy government would have a smaller number.
Of the 3,000-plus new regulations agencies issue in a typical year, 40 to 50 are “economically significant,” meaning they have an impact of $100 million or more. REINS would require Congress to vote on these economically significant rules. This burden amounts to three or four extra votes per month.
In return, Congress gets some assurance that agencies are regulating in accordance with the legislation Congress gives them. Agencies have increasingly gone rogue in recent years in areas ranging from environmental policy to tech policy.
The Federal Trade Commission is currently pushing to issue new regulations that go beyond its limited rulemaking authority, and without any authorizing legislation from Congress. It could cause billions of dollars of consumer harm if it follows through with its threats.
This is a case where REINS, or something like it, would come in handy. Even the very existence of a congressional veto would help to check such agency power grabs. There isn’t much point in issuing a rule if you think Congress will nullify it.
Our system of government is built on checks and balances. Each branch is supposed to moderate the others’ excesses. These counterweights tend to evolve or erode over time, so sometimes it is necessary to adapt them to restore a more equitable separation of powers. REINS is a modest attempt at doing that.
REINS has been around for some time, and has passed the House several times in previous Congresses. Its current incarnations are H.R. 277, sponsored by Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), and S. 184, sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Even if passage is unlikely this Congress, it is important to have as a jar on the shelf for when the political environment becomes more open to reform. If it doesn’t happen this Congress, it might happen in the next one. We need to be ready for when the opportunity arises.