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Posted at 05:38 PM ET, 12/07/2011

REINS bill to expand congressional power over executive regulations passed by House

The House on Wednesday approved a measure that would increase Congress’s authority over the executive branch by making any major regulations subject to its approval.

The REINS Act, H.R. 10, also known as the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, passed the House on a 241-to-184 vote, with four Democrats joining all Republicans present to vote “yes.” The measure was sponsored in January by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.).

The bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate, and even if it were to pass the chamber, President Obama has issued a veto threat.

Under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, Congress already has the power to override proposed regulations by passing a joint “resolution of disapproval.” But such a resolution faces the hurdle of having to be signed into law by the president, who would likely veto any move to do away with a regulation proposed by his or her own administration. The president’s veto can be overriden by Congress, but that, of course, takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Congress has only successfully wielded its power under the Congressional Review Act once before, in 2001, when it voted to do away with a Department of Labor ergonomics regulation.

The REINS Act would change the process so that major regulations would be contingent on congressional approval -- if a majority in each chamber does not vote “yes,” the regulation is not enacted.

At a news conference Wednesday morning with House Republican leaders, Davis argued that the bill “has the potential to transform the way Washington does business, to restore us to economic dominance, and to make this an American century.”

“It’s very simple,” he said. “When a rule is scored as a major rule -- $100 million or more in cumulative economic impact -- instead of it being forced on the American people at the end of the 60-day comment period, it comes back up to Capitol Hill under joint resolution for a stand-alone vote in the House, a stand-alone vote in the Senate, and then must be signed by the president before it can be enforced on the American people.”

In floor remarks Wednesday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) touted the measure as a “common sense” bill that would spur job creation.

“It forces accountability,” he said. “It simply weighs the benefits of a regulation to be balanced with the cost to our own jobs. Jobs ought to be number one in this House, and the number one jobs bill we can pass is the REINS Act.”

Democrats contend that the measure would hamper the regulatory process, increase uncertainty and allow Congress to do away with some regulations that are necessary in order to protect consumers.

“I continue to be disappointed that House Republicans are wasting Congress’s time on ideologically-driven bills to erode federal protections for consumers and communities instead of working on a plan to create jobs,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.

“The REINS Act would undermine our ability to protect children from harmful toys, prevent asthma and lung ailments resulting from pollution, and ensure that our small businesses can compete fairly in the marketplace,” he added. “At the same time, it would force Congress to play a larger role in the regulatory process, leading to even more gridlock in Washington.”

The White House on Tuesday issued a veto threat against the measure, which it argued would bring about a “radical departure from the longstanding separation of powers” that 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.”

“By replacing [the current] well-established framework with a blanket requirement of Congressional approval, H.R. 10 would throw all major regulations into a months-long limbo, fostering uncertainty and impeding business investment that is vital to economic growth,” the White House said in its statement.

By  |  05:38 PM ET, 12/07/2011

 
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