Assessing the REINS Act

Among the regulatory reform proposals passed by the House of Representatives this year was the “REINS Act,” a proposal to require Congressional approval before major regulations could take effect. Supporters and opponents of this bill have presented the REINS Act as a deregulatory tool. The actual effect of the REINS Act is likely to be more modest, for reasons I explain in an article forthcoming in the NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy (available on SSRN here). While I believe the REINS Act would significantly increase legislative accountability for regulatory policy, I doubt it would stop all that many regulatory initiatives, particularly those with significant public support.

Passage of the REINS Act has always been a long shot. Though it passed the House of Representatives, the Senate has shown little interest. This month’s election makes the REINS Act’s chance of becoming law even more remote, as the Democrats have increased their Senate majority and President Obama has said he would veto REINS were it to reach his desk. Debates over regulatory reform will continue nonetheless. So, for those interested, here’s the abstract of the paper SSRN.

Over the past several decades, the scope, reach and cost of federal regulations have increased dramatically, prompting bipartisan calls for regulatory reform. One such proposed reform is the Regulations of the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act). This proposal aims to restore political accountability to federal regulatory policy decisions by requiring both Houses of Congress to approve any proposed “major rule.” In effect, the REINS Act would limit the delegation of regulatory authority to federal agencies, and restore legislative control and accountability to Congress. This article seeks to assess the REINS Act and its likely effects on regulatory policy. It explains why constitutional objections to the proposal are unfounded and many policy objections overstate the REINS Act’s likely impact on the growth of federal regulation. The REINS Act is not likely to be the deregulatory blunderbuss feared by its opponents and longed for by some of its proponents. The REINS Act should be seen more as a measure to enhance accountability than to combat regulatory activity.