How Congress can REINS in gas prices — and unelected bureaucrats
By Tarren Bragdon
What if Congress could stop President Joe Biden from spiking gas prices?
We shouldn’t have to daydream. With the president pursuing a slew of costly mandates and executive actions restricting oil and gas development and driving up energy costs, Republicans must rally behind a dramatically expanded and improved version of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act — the REINS Act. This commonsense policy would prevent presidents like Biden from unilaterally wrapping the economy in the red tape that makes everyday life more expensive for Americans.
The REINS Act was first proposed in 2009, during the early days of the regulation-happy Obama presidency. It would extend constitutional checks and balances to the administrative state, requiring that Congress approve every major regulation — defined as costing $100 million or more annually, causing huge harm to the economy or raising consumer prices — executive agencies advance. That’s in stark contrast to the current system, which can best be described as “regulation without representation.”
The REINS Act passed the House of Representatives multiple times after the 2010 midterms while clearing key Senate hurdles. Yet there’s been little movement in recent years as the need for this law has only grown — along with the need to expand it. Since the REINS Act was introduced, the Obama and Biden administrations have pushed the bounds of regulatory authority, increasingly relying on nonregulatory “guidance” and executive orders, which agencies then implement without formal rules.
Consider Team Biden’s actions to restrict energy production. It’s revoked the Keystone XL Pipeline’s permit by executive order, “paused” oil and gas leases on federal lands, suspended oil-drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and canceled oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House also looks set to limit fracking in the oil-and-gas-rich Permian Basin through an upcoming Environmental Protection Agency decision on ozone standards. These moves directly contribute to rising gas prices, yet under the original REINS Act, Congress would have no authority to hold the president accountable and give families relief.
What would an expanded REINS Act look like? To start, it should expand the definition of what constitutes a federal regulation subject to congressional approval. It would include agency guidance and general actions as well as agency implementation of executive orders. This would give Congress a say in the most consequential and costly administrative policies — and keep agencies from sneaking around the federal-rulemaking process.
In fact, if this policy were in place, Congress would have been forced to go on the record for most of Biden’s energy policy. Our elected officials — not unelected bureaucrats — would have had the final word on rules and mandates that are making Americans pay so much at the pump. And remember: Making the law is (or at least ought to be) their job.
An improved bill would also take the determination of what constitutes a “major” regulation out of the hands of the White House alone. The current REINS Act puts this power in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Yet its director is a political appointee who advances the president’s agenda, giving OIRA an incentive to discount the true cost of an agency regulation, guidance or action. An augmented act should require the nonpartisan comptroller general, who serves in the legislative branch and typically stays across different administrations, to issue his or her own independent determination.
An expanded and improved REINS Act would be one of Congress’ most powerful tools for holding presidents accountable. It’s a no-brainer and a necessity — and not just in light of President Biden’s de facto campaign to raise the cost of gas. The regulatory state is running amok, and the sooner Congress reclaims its authority over federal policy, the sooner families can get a break at the gas pump, the grocery store and everywhere in between.
Tarren Bragdon is CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability.