Congress Should Use the REINS Act to Combat the Regulatory State

This op-ed was originally published at The Hill on January 6, 2017.

In the Broadway musical-turned-movie, 1776, John Adams ranted to the Second Continental Congress that it had stalled his proposals for independence from King George III and Great Britain. Delegates, even those who wanted a diplomatic solution to rather than war, blasted King George for running roughshod over the rights of colonists, restricting trade, and taxing them without representation in parliament.

Still, Adams, whose colony, Massachusetts, experienced the worst of British aggression, was denied a vote. His firebrand approach to the subject often rubbed his contemporaries the wrong way, which even he acknowledged, later writing in a letter that he was “obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular.”

Adams’ style and approach to independence was captured in the musical.

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our blood! And still, this Congress refuses to grant any of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate!” Adams, portrayed by future Boy Meets World co-star William Daniels, complained. “Good God, what in hell are you waiting for?”

Adams’ perseverance eventually paid off when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776.

While today’s political landscape is much different than it was at the time of the founding, there are some similarities. Today, the presidents have consumed far more power than delegated by Article II of the Constitution. The executive branch has blurred the constitutional separation of powers, claiming its own lawmaking authority through rules, regulations, and executive orders.

While these very serious concerns didn’t begin with President Obama, his administration’s cavalier approach to executive and regulatory power has certainly led to a much-needed renaissance of Article I, which delegates lawmaking authority solely to Congress.

The Obama administration has promulgated and finalized more than 600 economically significant rules, those with an annual impact of $100 million or more. A recent report from the American Action Forum noted that the Environmental Protection Agency has overseen $1 trillion worth of new rules over the past ten years, 75 percent of which came on Obama’s watch.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, H.R. 26, introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.). The REINS Act would require Congress to approve and the president sign a resolution approving an economically significant rule within 70 legislative days of its presentation to Congress.

Democrats, however, argue that the REINS Act isn’t needed and would hamper the ability of regulatory agencies to enact rules that are purportedly authorized by a statute. Well, that’s sort of the idea behind the law considering that the regulation cost American families nearly $15,000 in 2015. There must be a check on unelected bureaucrats and a restoration of the separation of powers.

Additionally, Democrats insist that an existing law, the Congressional Review Act, already gives Congress power to disapprove rules submitted for review. This, too, is specious justification for opposing the REINS Act.

Since becoming law in 1996, more than 100 resolutions of disapproval targeting rules under the Congressional Review Act have been introduced. Only one has passed both chambers and been signed into law.

In March 2001, Congress passed and President Bush signed a resolution of disapproval that rendered null and void the ergonomics rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the final days of the Clinton administration. The rule would have affected more than 6 million employers, coming with an annual compliance cost of $4.5 billion, according to to the agency’s estimate.

Clearly, another different tool is needed to combat the regulatory state, and the REINS Act would add a new option for Members of Congress to reclaim their constitutional authority as the lawmaking branch of the federal government.

Even with the passage of the REINS Act, there’s still a long way to go before it becomes law. Iterations of the bill have passed the House in each of the past three congresses. Unfortunately, it has never received a vote in the Senate; not even a motion to proceed, the most basic of procedural votes.

While Obama opposed the bill and threatened to veto it, there is hope that President-elect Trump will sign the bill into law, but the Senate must first act.

Senate Republican leaders should take a clear stand now and pledge to bring the REINS Act to a vote. Other than the rapidly increasing national debt, the regulatory state is the serious economic threat facing the prosperity of the United States.

As the Daniels-portrayed John Adams asked the Second Continental Congress in 1776, with ten Senate Democrats running for reelection in 2018 in states Trump won, “What in the hell are you waiting for?”

Jason Pye (@Pye) is the director of public policy and legislative affairs for FreedomWorks.