GOP launches summer assault on regs

House Republicans are pivoting to regulations as part of a broad assault on President Obama’s economic record for the August recess.

The House is expected to approve a slate of bills this week that would limit the federal government’s rule-making authority. 

Emphasizing the toll of red tape will give Republican lawmakers something to tout in their home districts, where they say constituents are all too familiar with the heavy hand of government.

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“There’s been a lot of complaints from constituents,” a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday afternoon. “They’ve got the EPA and other agencies crawling down their necks with new rules and regulations they’ve never seen.” 

Among 10 bills headed for a floor vote this week are measures that would add new restrictions on federal agencies charged with crafting rules. Another bill would give Congress more power to block the costliest regulations. 

The votes are part of the GOP’s “Stop Government Abuse Week,” a moniker that is drawing fire from public interest groups that argue the government has a responsibility to protect public health and safety.

“Apparently, they’re trying to equate the functions of various federal agencies with abuse, and I don’t think that resonates well,” said Rachel Weintraub, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America. 

The centerpiece of the GOP push is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require Congress to approve any federal rule that carries an annual price tag of $100 million or more. 

The legislation would create a new hurdle that regulations would have to clear before taking effect. It has been introduced in the last three Congresses, and the latest incarnation, offered by Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), has attracted 164 co-sponsors. 

But with companion legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate likely going nowhere, Weintraub dismissed the vote as political theater. 

“I think it’s a show. They want to do something they can point to, going into the recess,” she said. “This fits into their anti-regulatory narrative.” 

That narrative is likely to play a key role in this fall’s debate over increasing the debt ceiling. The United States is expected to reach its credit limit sometime around Halloween. 

Obama and congressional Democrats maintain they will not negotiate an increase in the debt limit. But the GOP appears intent on a broader economic conversation, which could include demands that the regulatory process be reformed. 

“Without question there is a direct link between the debt ceiling and the regulatory framework,” said Javier Ortiz, a Republican strategist with expertise in regulatory issues. 

Ortiz said the district work period would allow lawmakers to tell their constituents they’ve done something to address concerns about regulation, and contrast the effort with Obama’s economic record. 

“This is a great opportunity to get this in front of the people,” he said. 

Defenders of federal regulation, however, warn that the bills under consideration would have dire consequences. 

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards — an organization made up of dozens of public interest, labor and consumer groups — sent a letter to House lawmakers imploring them to oppose REINS. 

“Simply put, the REINS Act would make the dysfunction and obstructionism that plagues our political process even worse by giving one chamber of Congress veto power over any new significant public health and safety protection, no matter how noncontroversial or commonsense it may be,” the group wrote. 

The House is also expected to vote on a scaled-down version of the REINS Act that is limited to Environmental Protection Agency rules, and another bill that would allow people to record conversations with federal regulators.

Several of the bills take aim the Internal Revenue Service, which has become a top target of the GOP. Beyond revelations that the agency targeted conservative groups, the IRS took fire after administration officials announced the delay of a key Affordable Care Act regulation requiring businesses to provide insurance for their workers or pay a penalty.

While Republicans staunchly opposed the employer mandate, they also criticized the administration for unilaterally delaying a single provision of the law.

The Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act would bar the IRS from implementing any portion of ObamaCare. 

Cantor, during a weekend radio address, told listeners that recent events have shown ObamaCare has created “an unholy union between the IRS and your protected health information.”

Taken together, the bills are designed to show that Republicans are committed to reducing the burdens facing employers, he said. 

“Intrusive government regulations continue to hurt job growth and make your paycheck smaller,” Cantor said. “Cutting red tape makes sense — it creates jobs and puts more money in your wallet.” 


Pete Kasperowicz contributed