House Minority Leader John Boehner has offered specifics about his recent call for a moratorium on new federal regulations, and TPM’s gotten a look at just what kinds of regulations — other than the obvious ones implementing health care and Wall Street reforms — Boehner’s plan would block.
Boehner last week endorsed the REINS Act, sponsored by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), saying at his weekly press conference that “any rulemaking where the estimated cost to Americans would exceed $100 million,” should not go into effect “without Congress voting on it first.” That’s short of the full moratorium Boehner initially called for, but could nonetheless be a recipe for gridlock and ugly politics. That standard in the act would ensnare scores of new regulations every year, including both broadly popular, time-sensitive ones, and others over which remain substantial partisan disagreement.
The REINS (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny) Act requires congressional approval of most regulations with an economic cost of more than $100 million. The exceptions are rules written in emergency situations, enforcement of criminal laws, national security regulations, monetary policy rules proposed by the Fed Board of Governors, and the implementation of international trade agreements. Congress would have to explicitly sign off on everything else before it could take effect.
The $100 million figure is no accident. It’s the cost threshold at which the Office of Management and Budget classifies a regulation as economically significant, requiring review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Many such regulations are under review right now, according to OIRA’s website. To cherry pick one from the Defense Department: “This rule implements policy, assigns responsibilities, and provides procedures for addressing child abuse and domestic abuse in military communities. It prescribes procedures for determining whether allegations of child abuse and allegations of domestic abuse meet criteria for entry into the Service Family Advocacy Program (FAP) Central Registry.”
Most of the regulation that meet the standard are highly obscure. Some, like the above DoD rule, are sensitive but hardly politically charged. Others reflect policies that the GOP strongly opposes, and which would have a hard time surviving on the Hill under Republican leadership.
For instance, OIRA last year conducted 20 separate reviews of economically significant EPA regulations, including mandatory reporting rules for greenhouse gas emissions, and rules implementing a renewable fuel standard, as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
In the near future it will no doubt be reviewing economically significant rules pertaining to the implementation of the health care and Wall Street reform laws. Under Boehner’s plan, all of them would be subject to a lengthy legislative process, and possibly to rejection.
Looking back at OIRA oversight in 2009, one gains a better understanding of the kinds of rules that would be subject to additional scrutiny, delay, and possibly rejection.
Only two Department of Veterans Affairs rules met the economic significance standard in 2009, but one of them was required before the VA health care system could be expanded to enroll more Category 8 veterans (higher income veterans without service-related disabilities).
Over at the Pentagon, one of three economically significant rulemakings provided for retroactive stop-loss special pay for service members.
Twenty-nine different Department of Health and Human Services rules were determined to be economically significant in 2009 including the implementation of provisions in the stimulus bill meant to promote the use of electronic health records, and guidelines for diminishing the risk of Salmonella in egg products.
This plan might be less far-reaching than Boehner’s original moratorium plan, and would have to pass in Congress and be signed into law by President Obama — a hard climb at best. But it provides a snapshot of the GOP’s policy agenda ahead of an election in which they could take back the House of Representatives.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.