Q&A: Restoring Checks and Balances

Q: What is the REINS Act?

A: Shortly after the 115th Congress opened for business in January, I renewed my support for bicameral legislation that would rebuild trust in the way the federal government carries out laws designed to serve the public. Specifically, our bill addresses a misguided federal regulatory process that is stifling economic growth and job creation and infringing upon livelihoods and our way of life all across America. Importantly, it would bring better governance and greater transparency to the federal rulemaking system and restore accountability to the people’s branch of government. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Security (REINS) Act would strengthen constitutional boundaries by affirming the proper balance of authority in our system of checks and balances in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. The Constitution grants all legislative powers to the Congress while the President and his administration is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Through the years, Congress has delegated more and more authority to the executive branch to draft rules with the force of law. It’s time for Congress to tighten the leash on executive overreach and unleash real transparency in the way the people’s business is conducted by reclaiming the legislative authority granted to it by the Constitution. Here’s how it would work. The REINS Act would give Congress 70 days to approve federal rules that would impose compliance costs of more than $100 million. That would force members of Congress to vote up or down on any rule with a major impact on the economy and the lives of American families so they can be held accountable. That would help curb excessive, unnecessary regulations that undermine or ignore congressional intent and in the process undercut prosperity and opportunity for the American people. The REINS Act puts the people’s branch in the driver’s seat. Elected lawmakers should not take a hands-off approach to the regulatory regime that hog-ties the economy, hamstrings start-ups or harms innovation. Delegating decisions to unelected bureaucrats allows members of Congress to avoid accountability for any of the negative impacts and leads to results that may go well beyond what Congress intended. As the adage goes: Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. And the proliferation of red tape running throughout virtually every nook and cranny of the economy is stifling innovation and putting the brakes on economic growth, investment and wages. Consider that during President Obama’s first seven years in office, his administration adopted at least 230 major regulations. This regulatory burden imposed $108 billion in new costs to the U.S. economy. This cloak of rules and regulations is a stealth tax on American consumers and workers who ultimately pay for its enforcement and compliance costs. It makes sense to give Congress the final say to scrutinize red tape that makes it harder for small business owners, workers, farmers and families to enjoy the blessings of freedom and liberty and reach their fullest potential on America’s ladder of prosperity. Reforming the regulatory regime is a high priority for this session of Congress.

Q: What other ways are you working to advance common sense regulatory relief?

A: Believe it or not, federal red tape isn’t created solely by federal agencies. A practice known as “sue-and-settle litigation” also manages to increase the size, scope and reach of the federal government into the way Americans do business and how they live their lives. What’s more, the process takes place without the benefit of public comment or participation. Special interests and complicit federal agencies evade transparency protections — put in place by Congress — and dupe public accountability by using closed-door negotiations to achieve agreements amenable to the parties brokering the agreement. As a result, stakeholders such as small businesses, farmers, and state and local governments are shut out of the process and forced to abide by the consequences of the settlements. The Obama administration too often put radical political agendas before the public interest, most notably its EPA was a frequent offender of sue-and-settle. This practice doesn’t pass muster with me. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to rein in the growing use of sue-and-settle litigation. It’s called the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act. Among other reforms, it would require federal agencies to publicly disclose and report to Congress information on sue-and-settle complaints and settlement agreements; give the public at least 60 days to review and comment on proposed agreements; and make it easier for succeeding administrations to seek modification from the courts of previous administrations’ consent agreements. It’s not right to conduct the people’s business without the benefit of public input. That’s why I make it a priority to keep in touch with Iowans and use every communication tool possible, including social media. In January I will launch my 37th year in a row meeting face to face with Iowans in all 99 counties to hold Q&As in public libraries, hospitals, factories, civic organizations and schools. I look forward to continuing our dialogue and making sure the government works for you, not the other way around.