Legislative Stranglehold

With only four Democrats voting for the measure, yesterday the House passed H.R. 10, “Rules from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny” (REINS). If it were to become law, this radical piece of legislation would prohibit all federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission from minting any new regulations impacting the economy by more than $100 million unless they passed both the U.S. House and Senate within 70 legislative days. The requirement that regulations be agreed to by both the House and Senate would give the staunchly anti-government Republican majority in the House the ability to unilaterally veto significant regulations by simply refusing to pass the legislation within the accorded time frame.

Many of the new protections scheduled to go into effect this year and next are the result of laws passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in his first two years in office. These laws, including the Dodd-Frank Act, which regulates Wall Street banks, and the Food Safety Modernization Act, which improves our systems for detecting and preventing contaminated food from coming to market, were passed because Congress recognized the need for updated protections in these areas. In the lead-up to the financial meltdown of 2008, large investors created complex financial instruments that were not subject to government regulation and ended up contributing significantly to the financial meltdown. The Dodd-Frank Act gave regulators power to oversee these institutions, but if the REINS Act were to become law, any regulations they proposed could be delayed indefinitely.

Why are the Republicans in Congress pushing for legislation that would prevent government from creating the protections that Americans need? They claim it is to protect jobs that are threatened by “job-killing regulations.”

But there is no evidence that regulations are preventing our economy from rebounding. In poll after poll, small businesses report that their primary reason for not hiring is lack of consumer demand, not regulation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, which tracks the number of layoffs that employers attribute to regulations, in 2007, 2008, and 2009 regulations were cited as the cause of a mere 0.3 percent of layoffs—a figure that relies on businesses' own reporting.

If bringing jobs to their communities is not the reason Republicans in Congress are attempting to block new protections, why are they? Perhaps it is because of the strong opposition to new protections from their campaign donors. The lead sponsor of the REINS Act in the House is Representative Geoff Davis, a Republican from Kentucky. In his last election, Davis raised $55,750 from individuals and political action committees associated with the securities and investment industry, $39,750 from commercial banks, and $34,000 from the oil and gas industry. The reason these campaign contributors oppose regulation of their industries by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency is clear; they would rather there be fewer protections for the nation’s land, air, and water, so that they won't have to invest in equipment necessary to protect these natural resources. It is to these constituents that Representative Davis and the Republican leadership in the House delivered passage of the REINS Act yesterday.

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