Republicans Working to REIN In Executive Branch Excess

Regulatory reform isn’t a sexy topic. It typically doesn’t win or lose elections, it doesn’t garner news coverage, and it’s typically a footnote in a legislative agenda. But regulations, both for good and for ill, impact our daily lives in countless ways and cost our businesses trillions (yes, trillions) of dollars each year.

The idea that executive rules and regulations have grown out of control isn’t a new one.

“Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs,” wrote President Obama in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2011.

At the time, Obama signed an executive order to conduct a government-wide review of rules to “remove outdates regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive” and “bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules.”

President Obama’s review of pre-existing regulations was good, but halfhearted. Yes, we need a constant review of existing rules and regulations to make sure that they remain relevant and as non-burdensome as possible. But we also need to make sure that we have a method to assess the relative costs and benefits of regulations before they even hit the books.

Of course, the president had absolutely no interest in doing that. As Binyamin Applebaum wrote for the New York Times:

In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life.

Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.

Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.

All told, the Obama administration rammed through 560 major regulations, defined as those that have an impact on the economy exceeding $100 million, in his first seven years in office, a nearly 50 percent increase compared to George W. Bush. Even the term “major regulation” has taken on a different meaning under Obama. According to an analysis done by Sam Batkins of the American Action Forum, the Obama administration’s rules have cost, on average, $1.4 billion.

Congressional Republicans have had enough. Last week, the House passed a bill, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, also known as the REINS Act, which requires any executive branch rule or regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more to go before Congress for an up-or-down vote before being enacted.

This is common sense policymaking that will right-size the federal government’s footprint and ensure that potentially burdensome regulations are studiously reviewed before the costs are passed on to individuals and businesses. Perhaps more importantly, it’s good governance. as James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation testified in 2013:

“[The status quo] allows Congress to stand on the sidelines, ready to take credit or to denounce the agencies’ actions, rather than take responsibility itself.

The 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.”

As the 2013 testimony implies, the REINS Act has been around for a long time now. In previous Congress’ Democrats opposed the bill as a partisan effort to restrain President Obama’s executive authority. With a Republican now set to sit in the Oval Office (one who, coincidentally has said that the REINS Act “is one major step toward getting our government under control”) Democrats are left to fumble around to find a new reason to oppose common sense. 

Then again, that’s their party’s strong suit.