Last week, the House passed legislation that could change the way Washington works for the better. It will help give Congress more oversight on spending, will make the executive branch more accountable to the legislative branch, and could save a great deal of money. Consider it Christmas in July for the Constitution and conservatives.
The Judiciary Committee's report on the bill explains that back in 1996, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) was implemented as an attempt to get control over the large number of regulations coming from the federal government. But only one regulation has been undone using CRA, while 60,000 regulations have come into being. Major regulations accounted for 1,000 of them. These regulations are costly. According to The Economist, the Competitive Enterprise Institute reported that in 2013, the compliance cost of federal regulations was $1.86 billion, or $15,000 per household.
That is a massive drain on our economy which Congress isn't addressing effectively. Part of the reason is that there are so many regulations, it is difficult to decide which ones should be eliminated or amended by Congress. There is also the question of political willpower in the House and Senate to do the messy, politically uncomfortable, but necessary work of pruning the growing vineyard of regulations. It needs to be done and the REINS Act creates a trigger that forces action when a regulation hits the $100 million level.
The REINS Act is a way to help get federal regulations and their costs in check without giving liberals the ability to claim that conservatives want to throw the legal system into chaos by ending all regulations now. The bill would require a congressional vote on those federal regulations that would have a major economic impact on our nation. This represents a responsible governing concept: If the executive branch proposes what are in effect laws that have a big fiscal footprint, the Congress should have a say in the matter. The executive branch should not be permitted to become a super-legislature.
In 2013, James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation testified before a House subcommittee about that session's version of the REINS Act. He observed that when the executive branch makes regulations and Congress chooses to observe and not act, "[t]he result is power without accountability — a useful formula politically but an abysmal one for policymaking. The REINS Act would end this shell game. Congress would no longer be able to pass vague legislation and disclaim responsibility for agency rulemaking." H.R. 427 would make Congress participate in oversight it may rather avoid because it is politically inconvenient. Members of the House and Senate are elected to make politically difficult decisions. The REINS Act compels them to make those decisions when a major rule is issued.
The REINS Act shouldn't be an end, but a first step in getting the federal footprint reduced. Over the decades, the Republicans in the House and Senate have been complicit in increasing the size of government, warping the Constitution and taxpayers' wallets in the process. Passing this legislation and sending it to President Obama's desk can serve as a marker that Republicans are serious about reducing the burden of government.
The REINS Act can be gateway legislation to more Republican action in Congress to roll back the size of the federal government. The next steps in a post-REINS world will be to shrink and eliminate federal programs that the Constitution reserves to the states, sunset programs that are supposed to expire, and refrain from creating new funding streams and programs.
There is a consensus among Republicans in Congress that the regulatory state needs to be made accountable to the American people whose tax dollars fund it. The regulatory process has become a way for presidents to make an end run around Congress by legislating from the White House. The REINS Act is a way to put Congress back in the game of being a check and balance on executive action. It is one of the many ways Congress can try to make the federal government more accountable to the people.
Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer. Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring.
This piece was corrected on Jan. 20, 2017 at 4:02 p.m. Eastern.