With all the chaos surrounding the White House this week, the important legislative work of Congress has fallen out of the national spotlight.
If Republicans want to move past the media circus around Trump, the best way to accomplish that is to begin sending major pieces of legislation to the president for his signature. And there is no shortage of good bills Congress can act on.
First is the REINS Act, sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. The bill would require every new regulation costing more than $100 million to be approved by a vote of Congress. This would remove the power of administrative agencies to promulgate burdensome regulations independently of oversight from the people’s representatives. The legislation has moved out of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and now proceeds to the Senate Floor.
"For too long, an ever-growing federal bureaucracy has piled regulations and red tape on the backs of the American people without any approval by Americans' elected representatives," Paul said in a statement Wednesday. "The REINS Act reasserts Congress' legislative authority and would continue the historic progress we have made this year to curb the damaging effects of overreaching regulations."
Speaking at the Federalist Society’s fifth annual Executive Branch Review Conference, Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, spoke in favor of the REINS Act’s passage.
“Under this law, the specialized know-how within each agency would still be allowed to contribute to the regulatory process,” Lee said.
“But ultimately, Congress would be responsible for every major regulation that went into effect. This would make it easier for American voters to know who to blame for bad policies. As things currently stand, lawmakers can have it both ways.”
According to The Daily Signal, there are two other bills Sen. Lee believes Congress should pass to accomplish the Trump administration’s planned “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The first is the Separation of Powers Restoration Act – a bill to reverse a 1984 Supreme Court Decision known as the “Chevron doctrine.” Under this doctrine of legal interpretation, courts defer to an agencies’ interpretation of ambiguous statutes so long as their interpretation is “reasonable.”
Lee said the bill would end the dysfunctional status quo that tilts the legal playing field in favor of bureaucrats.
The other bill is the Agency Accountability Act. This legislation would “make federal agencies accountable … by directing most fines, fees, and unappropriated proceeds to the Treasury instead of letting federal agencies keep the money and then spend it as they see fit,” Lee explained.
By requiring administrative agencies to surrender the funds they receive through fines, fees, and proceeds from legal settlements to the treasury, the discretion these agencies have to spend without congressional authorization is removed.
“You see the Constitution has this pesky little provision that … Congress has the power and the responsibility to direct spending of federal dollars. The power of the purse is one of Congress’ most potent tools for controlling bureaucracies,” Lee said.
“Passing the Agency Accountability Act will go a long way in putting Congress, and by extension, the American people, back in charge of the federal bureaucracies and specifically, the way they spend money.”
A final bill Congress needs to take up is the 800-pound gorilla in the United States Senate – Obamacare repeal. Trapped by the arcane rules of budget reconciliation and unwilling to change the rules, Republicans in the Senate are struggling to craft a repeal bill that can follow the guidelines of budget reconciliation.
The issue is the “Byrd Rule,” a provision that requires any legislation passed under budget reconciliation to be primarily aimed at affecting the federal budget and federal spending. Parts of the American Health Care Act, as passed by the House of Representatives, are said not to meet the requirements of the Byrd Rule. Defunding Planned Parenthood is one such provision.
Any Obamacare bill that does not defund Planned Parenthood will be dead on arrival back in the House of Representatives, says House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
“I don't see that there would be the votes to pass it in the House,” he told reporters Wednesday night.
Congress will have its hands full resolving the differences in the Republican Congress and actually putting key pieces of legislation on the president’s desk. The sooner legislators get to work, the sooner the national conversation turns from GOP inaction and the Trump media circus to what Republican governance looks like.