REINS Act Introduced in Senate

Washington, D.C., February 28, 2013 — This week, Sen. Rand Paul introduced the Senate version of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. Rep. Todd Young (IN-9) introduced the House version in January with 121 co-sponsors. The bill, originally introduced in the 112th Congress by former Congressman Geoff Davis (KY-4), would require an up-or-down vote from Congress for any “major” rule passed by a federal agency. A major rule is defined by the bill as one that is estimated to have at least a $100 million effect on the economy.

Experts at the Competitive Enterprise Institute applauded the bill for the much-needed reforms it would bring to the federal rulemaking process. Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews said REINS would “address rampant over-delegation of legislative power, restore Congressional accountability and drive agencies to ensure their rules meet plausible cost-benefit standards relative to one another, which are entirely lacking today.”

“Congress needs to take responsibility for the costs and results of federal programs,” he continued. “REINS would induce members of Congress to acknowledge and affirm that the costs of agency rules, now approaching $2 trillion dollars annually in the aggregate, are tolerable to them and to their constituents before they go into effect.”

Crews raised one concern with the bill: It is limited to major rules, a designation many rules deserve but escape. “Agencies, both executive and independent, often don’t own up to the costs of their rules at all. The Federal Communications Commission’s sweeping net neutrality order and rules stemming from Dodd-Frank financial legislation are prime examples,” Crews explained. “So REINS should also hold for rules that a member designates as particularly controversial, not just ‘major’ ones.”

“REINS-style reform is long overdue,” he noted. “Bills requiring Congress to affirm what regulators end up doing after they ‘pass the bill’ and later ‘find out what is in it’ have been proposed since the 1990s. If Congress can’t cut spending to grow the economy, maybe it can stem the regulatory burden to accomplish the same goal, which would lessen budget woes as a side effect.”

Ryan Young, Fellow in Regulatory Studies, added: “There is too much regulation without representation in this country. In an average year, Congress will pass a little over 100 bills into law, while regulatory agencies will pass more than 3,500 new regulations.

“It’s easy to see why members of Congress like agencies to do their job for them. If a regulation turns out to be unpopular, or more costly than expected, they can just shift the blame to, say, the EPA or FCC. It’s well past time for Congress to take its lawmaking responsibility seriously again. REINS is the first step in that process.”

In a coauthored February 8 American Spectator op-ed, Crews and Young argue that the current regulatory process is anti-democratic, and the REINS Act would help mitigate the problem: “In a typical year, Congress will pass between 100 and 200 laws, while regulatory agencies will pass more than 3,500 regulations. In 2011, Congress passed 81 laws while agencies published 3,573 final rules — a difference of a factor of 47. In no year since 2003 has the imbalance been less than a factor of 12. The polite term for this is regulation without representation, and it is clearly anti-democratic.

“The order-of-magnitude difference between how many bills Congress passes and how many regulations agencies finalize isn’t just a major policy problem. It is anti-democratic. We are often right to be wary of the people getting what they want – most elections are proof – but voters still know a rat when they see one, and the REINS Act would improve voters’ visibility.”