House votes to pull the REINS on spending

News
Aug 9, 2013

—Amendments accepted to target carbon taxing, Obamacare.

The matter of government spending is a sore point for many Americans, regardless of political ideology. Now, even government officials are pushing for efforts to rein in spending.

This act of reining in government spending—more officially, H.R. 367, Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act—passed the House on a 232-183 vote on Friday, Aug. 2. The goal of the act, to have another check on government spending, particularly for the taxing of carbon emissions, is closer to becoming a reality.

“For too long, Congress has allowed administrations of both parties to enact regulations at great costs to the American people with little oversight,” said Rep, Todd Young, R-NV, the author and sponsor of the act, following its House passage.

“The REINS Act would allow Congress to vote on new major rules before they are imposed on hardworking families, small businesses, and agriculture producers. Regardless of which party occupies the White House, this commonsense legislation is needed to restore the balance of power in Washington and return responsibility for the legislative process to Congress.”

Coming in at an astoundingly short 24 pages—tiny by most governmental standards—REINS proposes to “increase accountability for and transparency in the Federal regulatory process.”

Among other things, the act defines major and minor legislative rules and proposes that any proposed rule come with a cost/benefit analysis dealing with cost of implementation, effect (good or bad) on jobs and what kind of jobs, and various other economic impact.

The classification of “major rule” would also trigger some specific requirements. To be a major rule, a proposed rule would have to meet one or more of the following details:

  • Results or would likely result in “an annual effect on the economy” of $50 million or more. Many sources list this level at $100 million, but the official text of the act includes no such number.
  • Results or would likely result in major increases in costs for individuals, businesses, or state or federal groups.
  • Results or would likely result in “significant adverse effects” on employment, investment, productivity, or competitiveness of the U.S. in the global market.
  • Is a rule made by the Environmental Protection Agency and would have a significant impact on “a substantial number of agricultural entities.”
  • Implements or provides for the collection of a carbon tax.
  • Is made under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

These last two details were amendments by Rep. Steve Scalisem R-LA, and Rep. Jason Smith, R-MO, respectively.

Any rules fitting these details would be required to pass both the House and the Senate within the relatively short time frame of 70 days following the introduction of a major rule. Critics claim this short time frame will doom even the most important issues given the usual length of time required to pass legislation.

“This bill would undermine agencies’ ability to protect the public interest,” Rep. Hank Johnson, D-GA, said during debate on the legislation. “This deregulatory train wreck threatens to send us back to the days before the Wall Street collapse, a financial catastrophe that could have been avoided by responsible policies.”

Young, however, characterized this increased congressional scrutiny as a way of allowing the American voter’s voice to be better heard… through their elected official.

“Why is it such a bad idea to ensure that individual Americans get to weigh in— through their elected representatives—on the important details that impact their pocket books, consume their time, and govern countless aspects of their lives?” he asked.

“More Americans could stay engaged in the entire lawmaking process and could voice their concerns in a meaningful way. And politicians would be unable to hide behind so-called ‘unelected bureaucrats’ because the American people could ultimately hold Congress accountable for the rules coming out of Washington.”

As with many things that have gone through Congress lately, REINS saw very onesided votes. All House Republicans, save seven who did not vote, voted yes on the act, along with six yes votes from House Democrats. And all the no votes were from House Democrats.

According to GovTrack.us, the act has a 40 percent chance of making it to law. Of the contributing factors were the leadership score of Young, the involvement of the committee members, and the Democrat majority in the Senate.

Currently, there is a Senate companion bill of the same name (numbered S. 15) which was introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, in February. As it is a reintroduction of an earlier attempt that died in committee, the prognosis is slim that the Senate version will pass committee and even slimmer that it will pass the Senate. This calls into question how likely it is the House version will eventually make it into law. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor

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