Senators push ‘cost-effective’ reg reform

Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators is tackling regulatory reform from a new angle.

The Regulatory Accountability Act reintroduced Wednesday in the upper chamber would require federal agencies to issue the most “cost-effective” rules necessary to accomplish their goals. 

In contrast to previous versions of the Regulatory Accountability Act, which mandated agencies issues the “least costly” rules, the version supported by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) would give regulators flexibility to issue slightly more expensive regulations, if they add greater value to the economy.

This slight tweak in the wording of the bill is intended to assure Democrats the legislation will not water down regulations and other important public protections.


“We continue to prioritize workplace safety and protections for our environment,” Portman told reporters. “This is not about doing away with this standards. It’s about finding a smarter way to regulate.”

The Regulatory Accountability Act would require federal agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before issuing a new rule. They must then issue what is determined to be the most “cost-effective” rule.

Some of the provisions contained in the Regulatory Accountability Act codify various executive orders from both Republican and Democratic presidents, dating back to Ronald Reagan.

For major rules, these cost-benefit analyses could be challenged in court. “The courts would ensure that agencies to not rely on irrational assumptions or treat cost-benefit analysis as a mere afterthought,” according to Portman’s office.

Federal agencies would also be required to disclose the scientific data they rely on to “justify new rules,” and give the public an opportunity to dispute the facts used to support major rules during a public hearing.

The most significant rules would be subject to an automatic review process every 10 years.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are co-sponsoring the Regulatory Accountability Act, but Republicans need to recruit at least six more Senate Democrats to pass the bill in the upper chamber. 

That will be difficult given the partisan climate in Washington, where many Democrats have no interest in helping President Trump accomplish his regulatory agenda. But conservatives believe there is an opening with moderate Democrats from red states like Heitkamp and Manchin, who both represent states President Trump won easily and are considered among the most vulnerable in the 2018 cycle.

“Federal regulations keep our air clean and families safe, and no one wants to go back to an era without safety standards,” Heitkamp told reporters. “But sometimes regulations don’t work as intended and create red tape.”

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced his own version of the bill, which the lower chamber passed in January. 

On Wednesday, he praised the Senate bill, signaling it will have support from House Republicans.

“Congress and the White House have made it clear to the American people that one of the biggest keys to faster and stronger growth of our economy should be reform of our runaway regulatory state,” Goodlatte said.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Heidi Heitkamp Joe Manchin Orrin Hatch Rob Portman
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