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CPR’s Noah Sachs in New Republic on REINS

Responsive Government

CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs has a piece on The New Republic‘s website dismantling the GOP House majority’s favority piece of anti-regulatory legislation, the REINS Act.  The proposal would block all regulations from taking effect unless they are specifically approved by both houses of Congress within 70 days of submission and then signed into effect by the President. He writes:

Last year, the Office of Management and Budget concluded that the annual cost of major rules issued between FY 1999 and 2009 was $43 to $55 billion, while the annual societal benefits of those same regulations ranged from $128 billion to $616 billion—an excellent return on investment by any standard. To see why the REINS Act would jeopardize these benefits, take a look under the hood. The bill would apply to any agency regulation with an expected annual economic impact of $100 million or more. Between 50 and 100 of these “major rules” are issued annually. Speaker of the House John Boehner dismisses them as “red tape,” but most are critically important, governing everything from food safety and housing discrimination to airline pilot training, accounting standards in financial statements, and air pollution control. Under the REINS Act, if just one house were to reject a rule, or simply didn’t act on it within the prescribed time period—70 legislative working days—the rule would be dispatched to the regulatory graveyard. Or, put another way, the bill would provide one house with veto power.

He continues:

by opening up a second front for corporate lobbyists to negatively influence policymaking. Consider the January 2010 Department of Transportation (DOT) regulation on Positive Train Control—GPS systems and computerized track controls that can help prevent train-to-train collisions and derailments. The rule was explicitly mandated in a 2008 statute signed by President Bush in the wake of a train collision in Los Angeles that resulted in 25 deaths and more than 135 injuries. To this day, however, the rule is opposed by major freight haulers and the Association of American Railroads, who object to the cost of the system. In all likelihood, had the REINS Act been in effect when the regulation was being considered, major railroads would have flooded Congress with campaign contributions and arguments against the rule, in hopes of killing it. The problem with this scenario is that, unlike a federal agency, which will always have to publicly justify its decisions with scientific and economic data, Congress could use the REINS Act to kill rules on virtually any premise it wanted—and do so behind closed doors or without much substantive debate. Politics, not sound policy, could rule the day.

Or, perhaps more accurately, politics and scheduling. REINS Act supporters know full well that Congress would never be able to debate and vote on 50 to 100 major federal regulations each year (certainly not within the 70-day window for each one). Already, budget negotiations drag on for months, while battles over confirming a single federal judge can rage for a year or more. And, although the Act includes some “fast-track” procedures, such as requiring that each house of Congress take an up-or-down vote on a regulation without amendments after two hours of debate, those hardly solve the problem: That’s still a lot of floor time devoted to regulations—too much, in fact, for most of them to stand a chance of survival. For REINS Act proponents, of course, this is all for the good: Under the guise of oversight, they want Congress’s notorious inability to act quickly to help kill important agency rules.

It’s a great piece, well worth a read.

Responsive Government

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