On Thursday, January 5 the U.S. House of Representatives voted 237-187 to pass the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017 (H.R. 26). The bill, introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), would require Congress to approve all major regulations before they could take effect, giving Congress additional leverage over the rulemaking process. The REINS Act was originally introduced in 2011 by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and while the House has since passed several iterations of the bill, the Senate has yet to follow suit. However, this may change now that Republicans hold the White House as well as both legislative chambers. President-elect Trump has signaled he would sign the bill if it were sent to his desk.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, an average of 82 rules have been issued per year over the last five years. Republicans have long vowed to reverse President Obama’s regulatory agenda and eliminate regulations they view as unnecessary, redundant or overly costly or burdensome. While this particular bill would not give Congress additional power to remove existing regulations, it would give them much greater power to prevent major rules from taking effect in the first place. Under the REINS Act, Congress would have to adopt a joint resolution approving of all major rules. Additionally, Congress must approve major rules within 70 legislative days or the rule will be deemed unapproved and will not take effect. “Major rules” are defined in the bill as any regulation with an estimated annual economic impact of more than $100 million.
Certain rules may be exempt from congressional approval under the REINS Act. For example, a major rule could still take effect for 90 days without congressional approval if the president determines that the rule is necessary to address an imminent health or safety threat, enforce criminal laws, provide for national security or implement an international trade agreement.
Proponents argue that the REINS Act increases federal agency accountability and would force Congress to be more active in agency oversight. However, opponents of the bill have expressed concerns that it would grind all regulatory activity to a halt and create a burdensome workload for lawmakers. Furthermore, some have claimed that the measure would be unconstitutional, arguing that it would constitute a legislative veto of a rule. Another constitutional question is whether the bill might disrupt the balance of power between government branches. These questions may ultimately be decided in the courts as numerous interest groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have promised to file lawsuits should H.R. 26 become law.
NACo will continue to monitor this legislation, as major rules that would be subject to review under the REINS Act could potentially have significant impacts on counties.
Contact: Julie Ufner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.942.4269