In the case of the REINS Act, in particular, the analogy is all too apt: “reform” is simply a euphemism for an effort to break the system and remake it according to ideological prescription that will leave it permanently hobbled.
Anyone who wants to understand what the right wing’s project is truly about need look no further than the REINS Act, sponsored in the Senate, tellingly, by Rand PaulRand PaulConservative group presses GOP to vote against spending bill Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales MORE. The bill would require Congress to approve all major rules. This would mean, among other things, that Congress would be the arbiter of each and every significant regulatory matter, no matter how technical, and that a single chamber of Congress could kill any rule.
It is not hard to predict the result – a virtual shutdown of the system that will leave the public exposed. Decision-making would be less rational and more random than anything that happens now because the formalities imposed by agency procedures and judicial review would no longer govern.
One doesn’t need to guess at the results because we’ve already tried a system like this. The regulatory system developed, starting in the late 1800s, precisely because a system that vested this much daily decision-making in Congress simply didn’t work. I
If you think that the very notion of having, say, a Food and Drug Administration is a mistake, then REINS makes perfect sense. Otherwise, it’s hard to credit. And it’s hard to see how even business would be better off without expert agencies like the FDA, which provide a degree of predictability and consumer confidence for business.
And Congress doesn’t need REINS to control the regulatory system; it can already intervene to block any rule (and is not reluctant to do so), and it writes the laws that determine what gets regulated. And it’s ironic that people who say they got elected to change the regulatory system can at the same time claim that no one holds Congress accountable. Their real complaint is that not everyone agrees with them about how the system should work.
The other bills before the House don’t go as far as REINS – nothing could, short of just eliminating every regulatory agency entirely – but they are animated by the same attitudes, and it’s no accident that they’re being brought up as a group.
They are all different ways to gum up the works. And in some ways they contradict each other: REINS seeks to weaken regulatory agencies and to make Congress the locus of all decisions, while the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) gives the agencies and the courts more responsibility. The only straight line between those two opposite points leads to regulatory breakdown.
The RAA does have one structural similarity with REINS, though: it would effectively amend, in one fell swoop, numerous health and safety laws without any serious analysis of what that would mean. In addition to saddling the regulatory process with enough new procedural requirements to slow it to a standstill, in one simple phrase – “notwithstanding any other provision of law” – the RAA changes the criteria for setting health and safety standards in many statutes.
Also like REINS, the RAA revives ideas that have already failed, such as so-called “formal rulemaking” – trial-like procedures that were shown to slow things down without improving any results. Again, an ironic move when the REINS Act would effectively ditch all formal procedures in favor of a political sweepstakes.
The third and least extreme bill, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, also ignores history – larding the system with additional reviews based on previous efforts that have slowed progress while helping nobody.
The Republican Party should be spending its time trying to improve what is basically an effective system, figuring out how to improve protections and reduce costs. But the House is off on a very different path, ignoring experience in favor of ideology, working to destroy a system that has protected business as well as the public. It’s high time for those in the center to call them on that.
Sherwood Boehlert, the former chair of the House Science Committee, was a Republican Congressman from New York from 1983 to 2006.