REINS Would Let Members of Congress Block Public Protections – By Doing Nothing

Anti-Regulatory Bill Would Politicize the Rulemaking Process and Put Americans at Risk

July 28, 2015

Contact: David Rosen, drosen@citizen.org, (202) 588-7742
Angela Bradbery, abradbery@citizen.org, (202) 588-7741
Brian Gumm, bgumm@foreffectivegov.org, (202) 683-4812

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2015 (H.R. 427, S. 226) would make it virtually impossible for federal agencies to protect the public, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS) said today. The REINS Act, which is scheduled for a vote today in the U.S. House of Representatives, would allow members of Congress to stop the enforcement of laws that they and their industry donors do not like. The coalition urged members of Congress to oppose the bill.

The REINS Act would require both chambers of Congress to affirmatively approve any major rule within a 70-day window before the rule could move forward. If Congress failed to act within that 70-day window, the rule could not take effect and would be tabled until the following Congress. As a result, the federal rulemaking process would grind to a halt. If passed by both chambers, the White House has pledged to veto (PDF) the bill.

It can take years – and sometimes more than a decade – for an agency to develop the rules necessary to implement and enforce our laws. For example, emissions and fuel economy standards for light vehicles took years for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop and finalize, despite widespread support from the public and the auto industry. The REINS Act would allow congressional inaction to block even non-contentious rules like this one. It would give Congress the power to overrule laws like the Clean Air Act – that were approved by a strongly bipartisan Congress and endorsed by the public – by blocking rules necessary to ensure that the American people can breathe clean air.

The REINS Act would inappropriately – but deliberately – inject corporate special interest and ideological considerations into a regulatory process that is already subject to heavy industry interference. Federal agencies employ officials with policy, economic, scientific and technical expertise to produce smart and sensible regulations. If affirmative legislative approval were required for every new rule, these experts would be forced to tailor their rulemaking to the political realities in Congress.

In addition, the REINS Act would add dozens of votes each year to the legislative calendar. In 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives was in session for 135 days and passed 296 laws, while federal agencies finalized 80 major rules. To comply with the REINS Act, Congress would have needed to hold an additional floor vote at least every other day. With recent Congresses among the least productive in American history, Congress would not be able to handle the additional workload.

“The REINS Act would write dysfunction and obstructionism into law by giving each chamber of Congress the power to block new significant public health and safety protections, no matter how sensible they may be,” said Katherine McFate, president of the Center for Effective Government and CSS co-chair. “This legislation poses a radical threat to our government’s ability to protect the public.”

“The REINS Act would give corporate interests yet another chance to undermine vital public regulatory protections. That’s its only purpose,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and CSS co-chair.

Congress already has the first and last word when it comes to agency rulemaking: lawmakers write the statutes which the rules implement and set the funding agencies receive to implement the laws. Agencies can exercise only the authority that Congress has written into law. Any agency attempt to overstep these bounds is likely to result in judicial scrutiny and reversal of the agency action.

Moreover, under the Congressional Review Act, Congress has the authority to review and block a rule by passing a resolution of disapproval. The REINS Act would enable each Congress to revisit old debates on previously settled issues, wasting time and money while paralyzing agencies and Congress itself.

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a “Secret Science” amendment to the REINS Act that would limit federal agencies to develop rules using only information that is publicly accessible. This amendment would block agencies from using important science that contains personal and proprietary information, and hamper their ability to protect public health and safety and the environment.

Congress should be searching for ways to ensure that federal agencies effectively enforce laws designed to protect our food supply, water, air quality, financial security and more – not creating new obstacles to the enforcement of sensible safeguards that protect the American people.

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The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards is an alliance of more than 150 consumer, labor, scientific, research, faith, community, environmental, small business, good government, public health and public interest groups — representing millions of Americans. We are joined in the belief that our country’s system of regulatory safeguards should secure our quality of life, pave the way for a sound economy and benefit us all. For more information, go to SensibleSafeguards.org.