One of the top agenda items for the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will be pressing an anti-regulatory bill they’re calling the REINS Act. The bill would subject newly minted regulations protecting health, safety, the environment and more to a requirement that Congress adopt resolutions of approval within 90 days of the date that the regulatory agency finishes its work. It’s a miserable idea for a number of reasons, many of which CPR Member Scholar David Driesen details in an op-ed in this morning’s Syracuse Post-Standard. He writes:
Since gridlock, backed by filibusters, makes passage of legislation extremely difficult today, this approach promises to make setting significant standards to address looming problems, from climate disruption to a new potential economic crisis, very unlikely. Just to make sure that routine delays in Congress can derail even popular and obviously needed standards, the proposed legislation provides that a lack of approval in 90 days makes new agency-enacted standards invalid.
This legislation serves the interests of corporate campaign contributors, who spent an unprecedented $50 billion in Senate races alone last time around, at the expense of everybody else. And it’s completely unnecessary. Agencies left to their own devices typically apply expert judgment to standard setting, rather than the base form of unalloyed political decision-making that typifies Congress these days. Of course, even a well-intentioned expert agency can make a mistake, and Congress can already override any regulation. The new bill, however, assumes that all standards seeking to limit financial shenanigans, protect public health or limit environmental hazards should become void, unless Congress manages to get around to declaring otherwise. It thus establishes a strong presumption against any effort to rein in abuses by financial corporations, polluters and other actors threatening the public.
Of course, the REINS proposal is one part bad policy and two parts political prop. Republicans are arguing loudly this year that the economy is in bad shape not because of their own hands-off approach to regulating Wall Street throughout the last decade, but because supposedly burdensome regulations are choking the nation’s businesses. Lay aside for the moment that their brief is full of holes, it does at least give them an argument to distract voters. They’re hoping that by telling us that environmental, health and safety regulation is the cause of unemployment, we won’t remember just exactly when the recession started, and under whose watch.