Running Out the Clock on Government Regulations

Tuesday, the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary passed, on a party-line vote, one of the most sweeping attacks in decades on government protections.

The Rules from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) bill would require that any major rule issued by a federal agency be affirmed by a majority vote in both the House and Senate. The vote would have to take place within 70 days. Proponents of the legislation claim that it would lead to improved regulations, but its real effect would be to hamstring government agencies so that rules that do not pass muster with the radical Republicans in the House—say, regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency or the Securities and Exchange Commission—would never be adopted.

Leaving aside outright opposition to specific rules, many new regulations would fail simply because of time constraints. Over the past decade, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the federal government has never issued fewer than 50 major rules in a given year. Congress simply cannot move 50 or more additional pieces of legislation each year—it can’t even pass annual legislation to fund the government.

It's obvious who stands to gain: REINS is supported by big businesses with a stake in undermining public protections so they can increase their profits. Americans for Prosperity, a group that claims to educate and mobilize citizens on behalf of "limited government and free markets," is one of the most prominent backers of REINS and was founded by the ultraconservative billionaire Koch brothers.

House Republicans have made no secret of their desire to roll back the legislative accomplishments of the first two years of the Obama administration. Below is but a sampling of how this bill would hurt American families.

If REINS became law it could lead to:

Elimination of the safeguards that must be put in place to guarantee Americans health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Dismantling the Dodd-Frank Act regulations designed to protect us from gambling by the big banks, which led to the economic meltdown and the loss of 8 million jobs.

Increase in unnecessary illnesses and death as a result of a failure to regulate toxic mercury emitted by power plants. The House has already passed legislation that would block most new safeguards under consideration by the EPA. Up until now, these efforts have failed because the Senate has not supported them. Under REINS, the House could veto the pending regulation of mercury pollution, a move that could lead, the EPA estimates, to 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 asthma attacks, 12,200 hospital and emergency room visits, 4,500 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 5.1 million restricted activity days.

Leaving small farmers vulnerable to the unfair business practices of the big meat packers. REINS supporters claim that regulations are stifling business, but the big meat packers are taking advantage of small farmers who raise animals, leading many smaller firms to actually ask for government protection. The Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration rules, which are pending, would ban many of the tactics the large meatpackers use to bully small producers.