House passes third regulatory reform bill under veto threat

REINS Act would require congressional approval of major new rules.

The House on Wednesday passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require a joint resolution of Congress to allow significant executive branch regulation to take effect. The 241-184 vote a day after President Obama threatened a veto.

It is the third major regulatory overhaul measure the House has passed this month. Chief sponsor Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., has said the REINS Act is aimed at "restoring accountability and transparency to the regulatory process."

After it cleared the House Judiciary Committee in October, Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said: "The REINS Act reins in the costly overreach of federal agencies that stifles job creation and hinders economic growth. It restores the authority to impose regulations to those who are accountable to the voters -- their elected representatives in Congress."

The White House in its statement of administration policy said the bill's requirement that both chambers of Congress approve major new rules is unprecedented. "This radical departure from the long-standing separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches would delay and, in many cases, thwart implementation of statutory mandates and execution of duly enacted laws, increase business uncertainty, undermine much needed protections of the American public, and create unnecessary confusion."

It also said the 1996 Congressional Review Act already permits Congress to review regulations and noted that the administration has a governmentwide review of regulations well under way. "When a federal agency promulgates a major rule, it must already adhere to the particular requirements of the statute that it is implementing and to the constraints imposed by other federal statutes and the Constitution," the White House said. "Indeed, in many cases, the Congress has mandated that the agency issue the particular rule."

David Schoenbrod, a law professor currently a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, defended the bill on political grounds. "In a representative democracy, the right way to find out which regulations the voters desire is for their elected representatives to vote on them," he said. "The upshot would be that agencies would talk to centrist legislators before promulgating regulations. That is how we should get to sensible outcomes in a democracy, not by elected lawmakers hiding behind unelected agency officials."

The opposite view was expressed by Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "All year long, the House has put the interests of big polluters ahead of the public's," he said. "The REINS Act would replace science and health with politics and pollution. Every nanosecond spent on this misguided effort was precious time that should have been devoted to solving America's very real challenges."

The REINS Act faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which last month rejected it as a floor amendment.