The 115th Congress is off to a stumbling start. House Republicans impetuously made gutting the Congressional ethics office their first order of business—only to beat a humiliating retreat after the resulting public outcry and rebuke from President-elect Trump. Now, House leaders plan to throw more red meat to conservatives by voting today on a sham regulatory “reform” bill that has negligible Democratic support.
In taking up the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, House Republicans are showing that they are more interested in riding ideological hobbyhorses than governing. Last time they passed the REINS act, in 2015, it received exactly two Democratic votes.
But the constitutionally dubious REINS bill aims instead to paralyze executive branch rulemaking that protects public health and safety, the environment, and consumers. It would require Congressional approval of all major rules, meaning that either chamber could effectively veto new regulations—without analysis or explanation—simply by not acting. And, as is typical with GOP regulatory “reform” blueprints, it fixates only on the costs of regulation, not its public benefits.
Ramming REINS through the House on a strictly party-line vote means it will likely die once again in the Senate, where Democrats still can block such blatantly partisan legislative “message” vehicles. And even if Republicans somehow managed to get the bill to the President for signing, it would then become a regulatory equivalent of ObamaCare—an enduring source of partisan discord that would be undone when Democrats return to the majority.
Worst of all, it’s an unnecessary fight, because there’s plenty of Democratic support for tackling the very real problem of regulatory accumulation, which is the relentless layering of new rules atop old ones, decade after decade. As both PPI and the libertarian Mercatus Center have shown, the result is a thicket of outdated, overlapping, and conflicting rules that inhibit economic investment and innovation, and impose growing compliance and opportunity costs on entrepreneurs and businesses.
If Republicans really want to ease regulatory burdens on Americans, as opposed to posturing impotently against them, there’s a ready vehicle at hand. In the previous Congress, bipartisan bills were introduced in both chambers to create a Regulatory Improvement Commission (RIC) to tackle the buildup of regulations over time. Modeled on the military base-closing commission, the RIC would periodically draw up lists of old regulations for elimination or modification and present them to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
Instead of trying to block new regulations, as REINS does, the Commission would focus on old rules that are holding back innovation and job growth. The fundamental problem is not that Washington creates too many new rules, but that it almost never gets rid of old ones. As long as the United States remains a democracy (and as Trump prepares to take power, I’m holding my breath), Congress will respond to crises—like the 2008 financial meltdown—with new laws and federal agencies will issue new regulations to ensure their faithful execution.
And the RIC bills have built-in bipartisan backing, having been sponsored by leading Members of both parties, including Rep. Mick Mulvaney, (R-S.C.), whom Trump has tapped as his director for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Yet instead of wracking up an early win on a pragmatic and imaginative way to actually ease regulatory burdens, House Republicans have chosen instead to fire up the partisan steamroller.
This is not way to break the spell of polarization that grips Washington. Evidently, Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanHealthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth High drama for ObamaCare vote Freedom Caucus, Trump reach 'agreement in principle' on ObamaCare repeal bill MORE and House Republicans have yet to make the mental transition from an opposition to a governing party. Until they do, they should get no support from Democrats.
Will Marshall is President of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.