Americans depend on federal regulators to keep them safe literally every single day. FDA regulations ensure that our medicines are safe, effective, and reasonably free from toxic side effects. Vehicle safety regulations allow us to buy cars that enable us to survive an accident. Before the federal government started regulating food safety, something as innocuous as a bottle of ketchup could contain a toxic mix of mold, rot, and spices added to cover up the flavor of decay.
And yet, House Republicans would effectively shut down these regulators’ ability to perform the most basic functions of their job:
The GOP will make a major push this fall for the REINS Act, which would require all major regulations to get a vote in Congress. [...] Unions and consumer groups are outraged over the REINS Act and have been lobbying against it.
They say it will severely delay regulations, increase corporate influence over health and safety rules through increased lobbying and allow politics to displace science. Especially problematic for them is a provision that if Congress does not approve a regulation within 70 days, it is cancelled and cannot be considered again.
House Republicans claim that REINS will simply provide an additional layer of congressional oversight before a federal agency can improve vehicle safety standards or reduce greenhouse emissions or streamline the FDA’s process for approving new drugs, but the actual effect of REINS would be to completely freeze much of the federal regulatory structure in place — permanently.
For one thing, while REINS’ chief sponsor claims that it would prevent new regulations from being filibustered in the Senate, the bill does not account for a loophole in the Senate rules. As a result, all but the most insignificant new federal regulations would be shut down completely unless they could somehow earn supermajority support in the Senate.
And even if the Senate somehow decided to put aside its partisan differences and start approving rules, it’s not even clear that it would have enough time to do so. Last year, the Senate simply sat on literally hundreds of bills that passed the House — many of them unanimously — because it didn’t have enough time to pass them. In 2010, federal agencies issued more than 90 new rules that would have required congressional approval within a narrow 70-day window if REINS were enacted. It’s anyone’s guess where Congress would find the time to approve all these rules.
Nor is it even clear how REINS would advance the right’s deregulatory agenda. As Sally Katzen, a former chief overseer of the federal regulatory process, points out, “Agencies sometimes propose eliminating outdated rules. But even these efforts at regulatory streamlining would nonetheless get caught in the REINS Act net, as deregulatory rules are nevertheless still rules.”
In short, REINS would place every major federal safety regulation, every agency’s major effort to rein in Wall Street, and even every major effort to reduce the burden of federal regulations in the hands of a body that just spent two months trying to decide whether to force America into a catastrophic economic default. If Congress can’t even agree to not blow up the entire U.S. economy, it unclear why anyone thinks that it could pass just one of the dozens of new measures REINS would require it to approve every year.