Standing at the cusp of complete GOP control over the federal government, Republicans have an opportunity to think big and aim high as it relates to rolling back the socialist administrative state. Imagine if they could restore congressional oversight over thousands of costly, job-killing regulations in one fell swoop? That is exactly the opportunity Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa (B-81%) has presented them with by adding his amendment to the regulatory reform bill known as the “REINS Act” (H.R. 26).
Amidst all of the sharp political divides between the warring factions of the GOP, the issue of regulations has become the sweet spot of economic reforms that unites disparate interests. Both the grassroots and the business wing of the party recognize that onerous regulations destroy jobs, depress wages, and raise the cost of living for vital goods and services. The total cost of federal regulations in 2014 reached $1.88 trillion, which amounts to a $14,976 hidden tax per family every year. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, this amounts to 23 percent of the average family budget of $51,000. If the regulatory state were a sovereign nation it would be greater than the economy of India.
It’s important to remember that while many Americans don’t incur a net positive tax liability for federal income taxes, every family pays the $15k hidden tax of the regulatory state. In fact, the $1.88 trillion annual cost of the unelected regulatory regime is more than the sum of receipts from corporate and personal income taxes combined. Thus, regulatory reform is more important than tax reform.
Egregiously, most of these regulations never passed Congress and often lack even a tenuous connection to statutory authority. Unelected bureaucrats within the executive branch agencies have promulgated regulations on labor, environment, health care, and private property issues beyond the wildest imaginations of any elected officials who originally passed the laws from which these bureaucrats claimed their regulatory authority. The average bill that passes Congress results in 18 regulations. The death of our republic lies in social transformation without representation: the reality that unelected and unaccountable members of government are imposing the most consequential changes on our economy and society.
In recent years, Republicans have converged on a consensus bill, the REINS Act, which would subject every regulation with an estimated economic cost of $100 million or more to congressional approval. By eliminating gratuitous and costly regulations and implementing congressional sunset powers over new regulations, families and corporations alike would save more money, which in turn would create more jobs, raise wages, and lower the cost of living.
Naturally, given that Trump, business interests, and the grassroots all agree on the need to cut regulations, the REINS Act was the first order of business for the 115th Congress. The problem with the underlying bill, however, was that it only applied to prospective regulations and wouldn’t subject a single existing regulation, including Obama-era rules, to congressional approval. The $1.88 trillion cost of regulations is not the tab for regulations in the pipeline, it is the cost of existing regulations. We’ve already crossed the Rubicon of regulatory hell and that must be rolled back.
In comes Rep. Steve King and added an amendment to make the REINS Act apply retroactive to many regulations. Thanks to his amendment, which was added to the underlying bill with support from almost the entire GOP conference, many major regulations already in practice will require affirmative support from Congress within ten years of its enactment, assuming the bill can pass the Senate.
Under his plan, beginning six months after enactment and every year annually for 10 years total, each agency would be required to offer up at least 10 percent of its rules in effect for review. The rules of an agency in a given year can be considered for approval en bloc to save time, but any member concerned about a particular regulation can move to consider a rule individually and amend it.
Inevitably, like every other conservative idea, the REINS Act will get watered down in the Senate. Which is why it was a prudent tactic of King to begin negotiations in the House from a much stronger starting point. It’s time to stop playing small-ball and go for the big plays. The Left wins 50-year culture wars overnight and creates decades of dependency whenever they obtain power. We need to find solutions to systemically roll back decades’ worth of their imperial federal leviathan rather than expend all our political capital fighting one or two policies before time runs out. Steve King should be commended for showing the way on how to get consensus for reforms of much greater consequence.