WASHINGTON -- A bill that critics say would make any significant new regulation all but impossible easily passed the House Tuesday.
The measure, known as the REINS Act, for Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny, would require the Obama administration to first weigh the potential costs of any new significant regulation -- not just public health or other benefits -- and then give Congress the power to squash any new rule with large economic impacts, set at $100 million or more.
Under the legislation, if Congress failed to act on a new regulation within 70 legislative days, the regulation would effectively be blocked, regardless of whatever harm it was meant to address.
Supporters of the bill said it's needed because endless government regulations are crushing small businesses.
“I introduced the REINS Act because people in my home state of Indiana want to hold someone -- someone -- accountable for the job-killing rules and regulations coming out of Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.).
“It's about holding federal officials at federal agencies and the Congress of the United states accountable for the harmful regulations drummed up each year, regulations which are laws in everything but name,” Young added. “They hurt American jobs and wages when they're implemented and they need an additional filter of accountability here in the people's House.”
But opponents of the measure -- every Democrat in the House but two -- countered that the legislation is actually a giveaway to special interests that would get a shot to block new safety or health measures not just when Congress first proposes them, but also when a federal agency attempts to write rules based on a law. Congress, in effect, would get to be a second regulator.
“Congress would sort of put itself in the position of the executive branch. It would basically flip the separation of powers, and no regulation would ever happen unless Congress became the regulator, and said ‘Go do this,’” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in an interview with HuffPost.
Huffman used to work for the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, which has opposed the REINS Act for years, pointing to the valuable effects regulations have had cleaning the water and air and protecting consumers.
Huffman argued that the GOP-led House is hardly who Americans want to be in charge of preserving such gains.
“What we don’t need is to flip the separation of powers and put the bunch that brought us the government shutdown in charge of all regulation in the country,” Huffman said. “These are the folks that are having a hard enough time governing right now. To give them even more authority over stuff as critical as our public health and consumer protection and our environment is a pretty crazy idea.”
The bill is part of a broader push by House Republicans to hamper regulation. Early this year, it also passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, which targets even independent agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto all such legislation.
The bill has passed the House several times before, but it never advanced in the Senate under Democratic control. That could change with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) now in charge. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) -- who McConnell backs for the White House -- has proposed companion legislation in the upper chamber, and stands a chance of getting a vote.
Still, the measure would be unlikely to attract the six Democrats that would be required to win a 60-vote supermajority needed to break a filibuster there.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.