House Passes Koch Brothers-Backed REINS Act that Weakens Gov’t Regulatory Agencies

Yves here. The Hill had a good opinion piece on the same topic covered in this Real News Network interview. Key sections of the article, Congress must stop undermining agencies that protect Americans by Jeremy Symons, associate vice president of climate change policy at the Environmental Defense Fund:

Holding the narrowest of majorities in Congress, Republicans are unable to rewrite the bipartisan laws that created these agencies. Instead, under the guise of “regulatory reform,” Republican congressional leaders are pushing a series of bills that would weaken federal agencies by impairing their ability to carry out their basic responsibilities under the law to ensure our families are protected against unsafe or unfair products, pollution and practices.

Rather than challenge popular agencies openly, some in Congress hope to hobble them with one fell swoop of bills that prevent their ability to update rules and regulations—in essence, a slow-rolling shutdown of government safety.

These reforms will not just affect environmental protections like clean air and water, but also critical safeguards for children and families across all spheres of life, including food safety, workplace protections, financial protections, consumer product safety and more…

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which passed in the House of Representatives on Jan. 5, is a bill that aims to obstruct even basic protections by requiring all new covered regulations to be approved by both chambers of Congress.

Under REINS Act, If either branch of Congress does not approve any covered rule within 70 legislative days, the rule becomes null and void and cannot be re-issued. This effectively gives one chamber of Congress veto power over any new significant public health and safety protection, no matter how non-controversial or sensible it may be.

With the power to block crucial standards resting in the hands of just one chamber of Congress, the REINS Act would give enormous power to deep-pocketed, powerful lobbyists in Washington who favor the status quo. If there is one thing corporate lobbyists are good at, it’s stopping Congress from getting things done.

With the REINS Act in place, Congressional gridlock would create a permanent system of regulatory stagnation and obsolescence that is unable to protect our safety, health and wellbeing in a rapidly changing world…

The Midnight Rules Review Act, which also passed in the House last week, would allow Congress to disapprove multiple rules finalized near the end of a president’s term in one single vote. However, under current law, Congress already has the authority to review and reject these rules. But this bill is only about one thing—hiding the ball. By bundling many rules together, the sponsors hope to undermine accountability and avoid public scrutiny about what rules are being rolled back.

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.

On Thursday evening, the newly convened Republican-led Congress pushed through a regulatory reform introduced as S21(?) — the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or REINS Act. It passed the House in a 237-187 vote, and the Koch brothers’ front group FreedomWorks have praised the passage of the reform. The environmental group The National Resource Defense Council put out a statement condemning the move saying, “Industry would no longer have an incentive to work with regulatory agencies to craft sensible regulations and it allows Congress to overturn virtually any rule that they disliked.”

And our next guest says that the REINS Act could weaken the ability of the federal regulatory agencies to do their jobs and that it its origin is in fact the Koch brothers’ own organization the American Legislative Council.

Joining us from Indianapolis, Indiana, is Steve Horn. Steve is a research fellow for DeSmog Blog. He’s also a Contributing Editor at CounterPunch magazine and a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in The Intercept, The Guardian, Vice News, Truthout and other publications. His recent article is “GOP Congress, Trump Already pushing Koch Industries’ Bill to Hobble Regulatory Agencies”. Steve, welcome back to The Real News.

STEVE HORN: Good to be back on. Thanks for having me.

KIM BROWN: So, Steve, help us unpack this if you could. So, what exactly is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or the REINS Act?

STEVE HORN: There are two answers to that question. The first one is: what’s in the bill? Basically what the bill says and does, is it gives Congress 70 days to review any regulation put forward by a federal agency. If they do not move on that within 70 days, say, they just purposely stall, that regulation goes by the wayside. Then there’s, they can’t just do it vaguely, there has to be some sort of measurement.

So, it’s called, anything that is a major rule, which is defined as anything that costs over $100 million for businesses, which isn’t really very much because I think that’s actually defined as businesses-at-large in the United States, that’s obviously only a tiny fraction of the U.S. economy. But then even if it didn’t reach that $100 million mark in costs, there are other caveats in there about other sorts of costs, whether it’s on consumers and others. So, basically there are several carve-outs that make it pretty easy for that to kick in. So, if it meets those criteria, then they have 70 days to review whether or not they want the regulation to go forward and they can choose to kick it by the wayside. So, that’s sort of the first answer.

The second answer is sort of who came up with this idea? And what my investigation shows, is that, basically, this has been an idea for the past over a half decade now of, you know, Koch Industries and Koch-funded think tanks and advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity. So, there’s that part… that kind of opened up the whole bigger part of the story for me.

KIM BROWN: Well, Steve, let’s take a look at a clip of Speaker Paul Ryan’s Opening Day speech to the 115th Congress:

PAUL RYAN: This is the kind of thing that most of us only dreamed about. I know because I used to dream about this a lot. (laughs) The people have given us unified government and it wasn’t because they were feeling generous. It was because they want results.

KIM BROWN: Well, this is not like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”, Steve. So, what is the dream that Paul Ryan is talking about? And what is the connection here to the FreedomWorks and Charles and David Koch?

STEVE HORN: Yeah. The speech that Paul Ryan gave basically pertained to the fact that, look, they have all three branches of government. They have the Supreme Court, most likely, going forward, because Trump was elected, a majority there. They have Congress in both chambers and they have Trump.

So, Trump has come out in support of this bill, actually — that gets to the bigger story. You know, how are David and Charles Koch involved? Interestingly enough, the one time where Trump came out and talked about this particular piece of legislation was in a quote he gave to a guy by the name of Phil Kerpen. Phil Kerpen is a guy who, for several years, worked as the VP of Policy for Americans for Prosperity, which is a front group that was created by Koch Industries back in the late 2000s during the Obamacare debates. And Phil Kerpen, basically, now he doesn’t work for Americans for Prosperity anymore, he works for a group as the President for American Commitment. But, on the record, he did say that he was in support of REIN so it raised the question of, why is he talking to Kerpen?

If you look back at Kerpen’s record, he authored a book called “Democracy Derailed” about how Obama’s regulations were, basically, usurping democracy in the United States. He created something called which is a chart of all the regulations that were put forward by President Obama. And he said that the one solution to all of these regulations to stop this agenda would be the REINS Act — you see the REINS Act at the bottom of that chart as the panacea for the problem.

And so, you look now, American Commitment, Phil Kerpen’s organization has its own petition in support of this bill. It has garnered over 100,000 signatures. And you can look at their social media feed — they’re promoting this bill. As you mentioned, FreedomWorks is promoting it. Americans for Prosperity is promoting it. So, it’s very clear this is something that is being pushed by Koch Industries through its front groups. But also, if you look at the lobbying records for this bill over the past half-decade in its various iterations — it’s always been called the REINS Act but it’s never been passed — Koch Industries has lobbied for it every single time that the bill has appeared at the federal level.

And one more interesting thing is in Wisconsin there’s a version of this bill, also called the REINS Act. It was first introduced in 2016 and then was reintroduced, actually, already at the beginning of this year. If you look at the lobbying records in Wisconsin, two names that appear once again are Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity.

So, although Donald Trump, you know, he was outspoken about the fact that he would not hold a meeting with the Koch brothers during the campaign cycle — he said that all the other Republicans were “puppets” for taking their money and doing their bidding. And now it looks very likely that if this thing does get through the Senate, that Donald Trump would be doing the bidding of the Koch brothers.

KIM BROWN: So, we saw earlier this week that there was a push-back on the Republican-dominated Congress trying to gut the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics. But REINS seems to have passed relatively quietly. So, do you expect more push-back on this? Or, does the Senate or President also have to pass it?

STEVE HORN: Yeah, the President still has to pass it and the Senate would have to pass it. I don’t expect it to move until after Obama is out of office, obviously. Obama has already vetoed this type of bill before and come out against it through his Office of Management and Budget, which is the agency that has to determine whether or not it’s a major rule, as I mentioned.

So, it’s really unclear if it will for sure go through the Senate but it already has been introduced. I think it has 29 co-sponsors in the Senate. So, if it does move through the Senate, they do now have a President who is on the record supporting the bill. So, now I think it’s just a question of if they’ll start pushing this after he’s inaugurated on January 20th.

KIM BROWN: So, give us an idea, Steve, of the type of regulations that could possibly be rolled back or stricken entirely should the REINS Act actually be signed into law by President-elect Trump and should it pass the Senate, as well?

STEVE HORN: So, this bill only covers any introduced regulation. It does not have retroactive type of grip. So, anything that was proposed in the past, the REINS Act does not cover. It just says that if a president’s regulatory agencies do propose something then it has to go through this review.

So, most likely, it won’t be anything that Trump does any way. He’s not going to be proposing any sorts of environmental, worker safety — any public-interest regulation, it’s a good bet that Donald Trump won’t be introducing it. But, you know, it could be something that a Democrat in the future introduces and then now it’s a law but it could be the law of the land that has to go through this sort of review.

I think that the irony of it is that it already goes through a major review to begin with, through something called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA, which has been criticized actually for doing its “cost/benefit reviews” and shooting down a lot of good regulations on the grounds that it would be too costly, usually from a business perspective.

So, this kind of already exists, but this is just a way for Congress and, you know, bought-and-paid-for politicians in Congress to have another say over this and, basically, just stall it before it even gets to OIRA.

KIM BROWN: Okay, Steve, so let me try to play devil’s advocate for a moment here because what the Koch brothers and people aligned with them, and conservatives in general, say that there are job-killing regulations and we need to eliminate these job-killing regulations and all the red tape on business in order to stimulate jobs and stimulate the economy. And it’s hard for business to grow with all these regulations in place. So, what do you say to that?

STEVE HORN: Well, they make that argument, which I’ll cover in a second. They’re also making a more simple argument on this one — that it’s unconstitutional right now. That the Constitution is being violated by Congress not having a say over those regulations, which there might be some merit to it. I don’t know if it’s ever been tried in the court system. I could see that being something that they might try as a legal challenge in the Federal Court system going forward because it seems like it at least has some legitimacy. And I haven’t really seen that argued before.

But, in terms of the jobs-killing regulations and the “faceless bureaucrats” that came up a lot yesterday on the House floor, you know, there are arguments to be made that these regulations don’t really have a lot of teeth, anyway. They’re not stopping industry. They have to be a little more careful on what they emit, for example, for air emissions or, you know, at the workplace, they prevent work hazards to workers. I don’t think that there’s been that much credible evidence that these are actually putting businesses out of work, except for when they say that it costs so much that they have to kill jobs. And I just don’t think that that’s the major cause of job loss per se, but that’s the argument that that side makes. And I think that that’s all based, sort of, on this premise that corporate profits reign supreme, that because they have to do this, they’ll make a little bit less profit and that’s bad for them.

And then that goes to what Trump says, “Well, we have to off-shore jobs. We have to… that’s why new jobs are moving to Mexico, is because of these strangulating regulations.” But, of course, the over-arching premise is that their CEOs are still being paid billions upon billions of dollars — their companies are making plenty of money. So, when we talking about these things in terms of jobs-killing, it is usually framed in a misleading way. You know, it’s basically is always from the perspective of corporate profits.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, we will certainly monitor the passage of the REINS Act as it possibly moves through the other Chamber of Congress.

We’ve been joined by Steve Horn. Steve is a research fellow for DeSmog Blog. He’s also a Contributing Editor at CounterPunch magazine. You can check out Steve’s work across the web. He’s been on The Intercept, The Guardian, Vice News, Truthout and other publications. And you should check out his most recent article titled, “GOP Congress, Trump Already Pushing Koch Industries Bill to Hobble Regulatory Agencies”. Steve, we appreciate you joining us today, thank you.

STEVE HORN: Thanks again for having me.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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    1. Pat

      Pretty much make clear that she would mildly protest for her public position but keep her promises to her backers by not vetoing it. She’d have to keep her powder for the bigger fights, like the half assed tuition plans and protecting ACA.

      You still seem to be under the mistaken belief that Clinton cared about consumers, employees, the climate….

  1. Howard Story

    yippeee, thousands of unelected bureaucrats who have passed 20,000+ rules and regs over 8 years may have to go home and get real jobs.. drill the holes, build the pipelines, convert the country from coal to gas.. hire the vets and coal miners to do the work..

    1. Vatch

      If this passes, it will be easier for you to drink poisoned water, to eat adulterated food from China, to suffer a crippling injury at work, and to be cheated by your banker, stock broker, or insurance agent.


      1. RUKidding

        Yes, bring on more poisoned water ala Flint MI. Hip Hip Hooray! We got rid of all those horrible regulations that were ruining my life.

  2. Pat

    I’m sure the Democrats will make sure this never makes it past the Senate.

    Bwahahhahahahahahhaha. I do break myself up. Mind you it is either laugh hysterically or cry. See it will still all be about those bad Republicans, as our Democratic leadership assumes we are all stupid and don’t realize that they can make sure this doesn’t see the light of day unless and until the filibuster is overturned.

    1. Vatch

      The filibuster still exists for proposed laws and for Supreme Court nominations. It no longer exists for other judicial nominations or for Executive branch nominations. Here’s the bill information, for those who want to contact their Senators about this:

      If the Democrats want naive people like me to continue believing that they are somewhat better than the Republicans, they’re going to have to prevent bills like this from becoming law.

      1. Vatch

        It looks like only two Democrats voted in favor of this bill: Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Henry Cuellar of Texas. Both have low ratings from the League of Conservation Voters.

      2. craazyboy

        Yeah, and before we get a R prez, R house, and R senate. They should hurry up. Time is running out!

        1. Vatch

          The Ds still have the filibuster in the Senate. The question is, do any of them have the backbone to use it?

          1. lyman alpha blob

            My guess is that rather than using the filibuster to stop this, and I mean the old fashioned kind where they get up on their soapboxes and talk forever about why the Republicans don’t want to protect citizens against unsafe or unfair products, pollution and practices, they will instead just vote against and see it pass anyway. That way they can pretend they were fightin’ for us but the Republicans are so mean and that’s why we need to vote D in 2018, blah blah,blah.

            They’d rather watch our whole country turn into a cesspool for their own political gain (which if they hadn’t noticed isn’t even happening) than actually do something useful that’s completely within their power to do.

          2. craazyboy

            Yup and if that doesn’t work, Obama can veto it. If it gets there before the 20th, and Obama isn’t too busy commanding the Ukraine Liberation invasion.

    2. Dwight

      If the Dems were going to get rid of the filibuster for judicial nominations below Supreme Court, where it counts most in the vast majority of cases, they should have done it much earlier. The district court judgeships will now be filled by the Republicans. Thanks Dems for 8 years of nothing. Two years of which you fully controlled the legislative and executive branches. Romneycare doesn’t count.

  3. craazyboy

    PAUL RYAN: This is the kind of thing that most of us only dreamed about. I know because I used to dream about this a lot. (laughs) The people have given us unified government and it wasn’t because they were feeling generous. It was because they want results.

    hahaha….ick! Paul used to be a part time hotdog and baloney salesman in college.
    He’s realized his dream. Hotdogs For All. Just don’t ask how they’re made.

    Next – privatize SS. It’ll be unregulated and go to moon! Or some non-extradition country like Brazil.

    Health bonus – Who wouldn’t like a little extra lead in their pencil?

  4. steelhead23

    Let’s be clear here. Federal legislation that creates new regulatory authority, virtually always carries language that the Secretary of the appropriate division of the administration promulgate rules to implement the legislation. Rules are not changed arbitrarily, but through a complex process that includes opportunities for public comment and once promulgated are susceptible to litigation. Federal agencies are always slow to change the rules, often too slow. The idea that there are thousands of public employees writing new rules to fit their every whim is preposterous. One of the values the bureaucracy provides is this slowness to change – a constraint Congress should be slow to remove.

  5. howard story

    that’s the 64,000 question, what do they do.. They have no skills other than going to meetings and passing regulations affecting industries and situations they have no real life experience with.. Possibly they could apply for jobs building the pipelines, digging the ditches to replace flint type stuff etc. etc..
    How about we do the fiscal stimulus thing and replace all the lead pipes..
    Steel, regardless, they promulgated over 20,000 rules and regs. in 8 yrs..
    We are drowning in bs..

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