The Magazine

Regulation Nation

Three Kentuckians join forces to stop America from choking on red tape.

Sep 26, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 02 • By PHIL KERPEN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Davis was elected to Congress in 2004. He serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and is a deputy Republican whip. He brings a businesslike approach to government and has a keen understanding of regulatory issues.

So Davis saw the power of Rogers’s idea. The piece of paper Rogers handed him said,

Proposed legislation:

In adherence to the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, section 1 .  .  . “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” All rules, regulations, or mandates that require citizens, state or local government financial expenditures must first be approved by the U.S. Congress before they can become effective.

Davis took the idea back to Washington and huddled with his advisers. He agreed that what was missing from the regulatory process was accountability. Anticipating objections, Davis and his team worked to make the proposal into a robust, workable bill. They designed a streamlined process to guarantee a quick up or down vote on any economically significant regulation. Under their bill, no major regulation could take effect without the approval of the House and Senate and the president’s signature (or congressional override of a presidential veto). The REINS Act quickly garnered scores of supporters, notably Republican leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy. 

The REINS concept is not anti-regulation. It simply would require transparency and accountability. The hope is that under this improved process, Congress would block unnecessary regulations, and necessary regulations would be less costly. Davis claims to have received positive feedback—privately—from EPA officials. 

In the Senate, Davis found his first partner in Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who introduced the bill in September 2010 with 12 cosponsors. This year, DeMint handed off REINS to Senator Rand Paul, making it, fittingly, a Kentucky-led effort. Rogers had been a tireless campaigner for Paul, organizing DAV and VFW units around the state.

One of the toughest things to do in a political campaign is get businesses to take sides. They worry about angering part of their customer base. But Paul told me that Rogers personally persuaded hundreds of Campbell County businesses to display Rand Paul signs. Paul had long been concerned about unelected bureaucrats’ writing laws; he saw the issue as perfect for Tea Party activists determined to hold government accountable. After hearing Davis explain the REINS Act, Paul featured it prominently in his insurgent campaign. He called it a “good government, nonpartisan issue,” adding that even liberal colleagues can be persuaded that regulation shouldn’t be left to unelected bureaucrats.

Especially now. The Dodd-Frank Act alone is expected to result in more than 500 rulemakings affecting the financial sector, while the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that the number of rules to be imposed by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is potentially limitless. The president’s recent decision to defer his job-crushing ozone regulations until after the next election notwithstanding, the EPA is still busily discovering within 40-year-old laws the power to pursue an anti-energy agenda that Congress and the American people have already rejected. The National Labor Relations Board is telling companies where they can and can’t locate facilities. And Obama’s health care law created an indeterminately large number of new bureaucratic entities (CRS literally cannot ascertain how many). Without reform, none of these regulations will be subject to congressional approval.

In the REINS Act, three Kentuck-ians have given America a tool that can fix the regulatory process and solve one of the basic structural problems destroying jobs and economic freedom. The vote, expected by late November, will put every member of Congress on record: Will elected representatives of the people responsibly exercise the legislative power entrusted to them, or will they sit on their hands while regulators undermine our economy?

Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity and the author of the forthcoming Democracy Denied: How Obama is Ignoring You and Bypassing Congress to Radically Transform America—and How to Stop Him.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers