House Republicans set to pass legislation to hobble the administrative state

by Zachary Halaschak, Economics Reporter

House Republicans are set to pass legislation that would dramatically roll back government bureaucracy and put more control in the hands of elected officials.

Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) introduced the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act earlier this year, and it is set to be voted on soon. The bill targets rulemaking from the executive branch and would mandate that every new “major rule” proposed by federal agencies must be approved by both the House and Senate before going into effect.

The current iteration of the REINS Act describes a “major rule” as any federal rule or regulation that may result in an annual economic effect of more than $100 million, a major increase in consumer prices, or adverse effects on competition, employment, and investment, among other strictures.

“Today I think people can all agree, regardless of what political affiliation you have, that there is a new fourth branch of government and it’s the regulatory regime,” Cammack told the Washington Examiner during an interview. “It’s been weaponized by both parties … instead of going through the traditional legislative process we now have nameless, faceless bureaucrats in basements all over Washington, D.C., making law, implementing law, without any accountability or consequences.”

But critics of the proposal say it would add burdensome guardrails to the regulatory process and would hamstring the federal government in taking action.

Cammack said that her bill is designed to hand back Congress its Article 1 authority to legislate the proposed rules and regulations that meet the criteria for major changes. She said giving Congress that power is particularly important now because the “hyper-partisan” Biden administration has been using rulemaking so aggressively.

For instance, the Labor Department proposed a rule that would allow retirement plan managers to consider environmental, social, and governance factors when making investments. The rule allows, though doesn’t require, fiduciaries to weigh ESG factors when making investment decisions for U.S. retirement accounts.

Congressional Republicans attempted to override the ESG rule and even got some Democratic support in their effort. The Senate voted 50-46 to rescind the rule, with backing from centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT). The House voted 216-204 to pass the rollback, with Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) being the sole Democratic defector in the lower chamber.

But President Joe Biden then vetoed the override and there wasn’t enough support in Congress to overturn Biden’s decision, meaning that the Labor Department rule moved forward.

Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Examiner that if the REINS Act were to become law, it would mark a major shift to how the administrative state is run.

“REINS would be extraordinarily significant in that if you had major regulations Congress would need to … get up on its hind legs and actually affirm it — that makes a huge difference,” Crews said.

Crews said that rulemaking under Biden has been especially excessive. While former President Barack Obama famously threatened that he could wield the power of the pen and then phone to produce executive action aside from Congress, Crews contends that the administrative state under Biden has been even busier.

“Biden, I think, has taken that to another level,” he said, noting in particular the ESG push. Crews said that even some of the independent agencies, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Reserve, are pushing the ESG agenda.

The Biden administration contends that agency regulations are a crucial part of keeping the U.S. afloat. In a statement of administration policy, the White House said the bill would add to the regulatory process an “unwieldy, unnecessary, and time-consuming hurdle that would prevent implementation of critical safeguards that protect public safety, grow our economy, and advance the public interest.”

Critics argue that the REINS Act would also be redundant and is an affront to the separation of powers.

Voting on the REINS Act was supposed to be taken up last week but has been held up because of the standoff between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Republican leadership and a group of hard-line conservatives who are frustrated over his handling of the debt limit negotiations with the Biden administration.

Several of those members are pushing to renegotiate terms that secured McCarthy the speakership in January, a source familiar with the conversations told the Washington Examiner. The holdouts have caused all votes to be delayed as Republicans won’t be able to pass legislation out of the House with their slim majority without support from the rebelling members.

Despite the gridlock, the REINS Act is a clear signal that Republicans want to act on tearing down the administrative state. Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told the Washington Examiner that his whole support is behind the push.

“Our bloated federal government has thrown these clearly defined roles in the garbage by forcing burdensome regulations written by unelected bureaucrats onto the American people,” Hern said. “I am proud to protect the Constitution with the REINS Act, which returns power back to Congress by giving us decision rights over regulations impacting the economy by $100 million or more.”

Cammack told the Washington Examiner on Friday that she thinks congressional oversight over the federal administrative state and rulemaking is becoming a bigger policy platform for Republicans heading into the 2024 elections and beyond.

“Because that is how we’re seeing some of the most nefarious actions being taken and implemented,” she said.

It is essentially impossible that the REINS Act will be approved in its current iteration with Biden as president, as he would surely veto it, although if Republicans win the White House in 2024 the legislation could be a key achievement for the GOP. Crews said that it’s important that this be implemented given the country’s future.

“Everything from local tap water to space commercialization is being turned into a government project. That is going to mean significant amounts of regulation in terms of quantity and bulk of the rules that come down the road,” he said.

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