Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the REINS Act, H.R. 26. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law, will prevent the execution of laws already passed by Congress to protect the health and safety of Americans at work, at school, and in the marketplace.
Congress has passed a huge number of laws authorizing the Executive Branch to take action on a wide range of issues. In order to take detailed action in each case, Congress granted agencies of the federal government to craft rules to define the parameters of the authorized activities. These rules are not issued in defiance of the Congress. On the contrary, Congress specifically authorized the rule-making abilities of every single federal agency.
Without the ability to make specific rules to deal with on-the-ground circumstances, federal agencies would soon cease to function effectively. That’s because particular on-the-ground circumstances are not addressed in the broad legislation passed by Congress that authorizes federal agencies.
Hampering congressionally-authorized Executive rulemaking makes the federal government less responsive and more bureaucratic, making it more difficult for Americans to live and do business. This kind of obstruction is exactly what H.R. 26, the REINS Act, will do if it takes the final step to become law.
The REINS Act will effectively destroy the ability of the Executive agencies of the federal government to maintain their operation by adding an extra layer of congressional authorization of every single rule that has any sizable impact. Federal agencies will not be allowed to execute their congressionally-authorized rule-making roles unless both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate pass legislation within 70 days of the drafting of a rule.
Congress almost never passes legislation within 70 days. The Republican Congress has proven to be especially slow and obstructive, regularly failing to pass even predictable annual budgets on time.
What’s this means in practice is that, if the REINS Act takes effect as law, no federal government agency will be able to enact any new rules, unless there is an extraordinary push in Congress. That means that only rules that benefit large and powerful entities, such as the management of multinational corporations, will be allowed to go through.
The health and safety of the American people will suffer measurably as a consequence. That’s because federal agencies routinely use their rule-making ability to respond to developments and discoveries, enabling already-existing authorization to help Americans in need.
Consider, for example, the work of the Mine Safety and Health Adminsitration. As mining companies develop new techniques and technologies, the MSHA responds, under the authority already granted to it by Congress, by crafting new rules to apply to the new situations. These new rules don’t create new law. They simply enact the laws that already exist to keep miners safe and sound.
Under the REINS Act, the MSHA will lose the ability to apply laws that already exist in order to protect miners from hazardous working conditions. There’s a lot at stake in mining, a profession where unsafe comnditions often lead to workers’ death.
The prospect of miners working without adequate protection from hazardous conditions under the REINS Act is so fire that U.S. Representative Bobby Scott from Virginia, a coal mining state, offered an amendment to the bill to address the problem. Congressman Scott’s amendment would have preserved the ability of the Mine Safety and Health Administration to make rules protecting coal miners from many of the dangers of working with explosives to extract flammable materials deep underground.
Yesterday, the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill Scott’s amendment.