Seeking to cut costly and unjustified federal regulations, the House of Representatives last week passed the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome—or SCRUB—Act. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the bill’s sponsor and the senior Republican in the Senate, took to the floor to urge the Senate to pass the legislation.
Hatch identified the failure to eliminate outdated and ineffective regulations as a major drag on the economy. “Every President since Jimmy Carter has affirmed the need to review our existing regulations to make sure that they are efficient and are no more intrusive and burdensome than is absolutely necessary” Hatch said. “Nevertheless, administrations of both parties have failed to make meaningful reductions in the regulatory burden—with some retrospective review efforts even adding costs to the economy. With family budgets stretched thin and our economy badly in need of job creation, we need to act to turn this longstanding bipartisan commitment to effective retrospective review into a reality. But to do so, we need to take the responsibility of reviewing old rules away from the bureaucrats who keep failing to make meaningful reductions to the regulatory burden.”
Senator Hatch has played a key role in every major regulatory reform effort in recent decades, including as an author of the 1995 Comprehensive Regulatory Reform Act while serving as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. His past proposals that address the problem of regulatory accumulation include the original Regulatory Accountability Act of 1993, which included a number of mechanisms for implementing retrospective review similar to those in the SCRUB Act.
Hatch was joined on the floor by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who accompanied Hatch in introducing the SCRUB Act. In her speech, Ernst focused on how the SCRUB Act would help families and small businesses.
The full speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.
Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to take up a piece of legislation that I’m sponsoring that recently passed the House of Representatives, the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act—or SCRUB Act.
Federal regulations today impose—by some estimates—a crushing burden of about $1.88 trillion dollars on our economy. That’s roughly $15,000 per household and more than the entire country’s corporate and individual income taxes combined. Excessive and often unnecessary rules imposed by unaccountable Washington bureaucrats strain family budgets and create conditions where small businesses struggle to create jobs.
Nevertheless, the regulatory burden keeps growing year after year. The Code of Federal Regulations is now more than 175,000 pages long and contains more than 200 volumes. Since 2008, regulators have added on average more than $107 billion dollars in annual regulatory costs. And as we near the end of President Obama’s time in office, Americans should be prepared for a deluge of new rules. As has been widely reported, about 4,000 regulations are working their way through the federal bureaucracy, with some experts predicting their cost to exceed well over $100 billion dollars.
Every President since Jimmy Carter has affirmed the need to review our existing regulations to make sure that they are efficient and are no more intrusive and burdensome than is absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, administrations of both parties have failed to make meaningful reductions in the regulatory burden—with some retrospective review efforts even adding costs to the economy. Most notably, according to a study by the American Action Forum, the Obama administration’s much-touted efforts to review old rules actually added more than $23 billion dollars in costs on the economy and mandated nearly 9 million additional hours of paperwork.
With family budgets stretched thin and our economy badly in need of job creation, we need to act to turn this longstanding bipartisan commitment to effective retrospective review into a reality. But to do so, we need to take the responsibility of reviewing old rules away from the bureaucrats who keep failing to make meaningful reductions to the regulatory burden. That’s why I’ve joined my colleagues, the junior Senators from Iowa and Missouri, to introduce the SCRUB Act.
The SCRUB Act establishes a bipartisan, Blue-Ribbon commission to review existing federal regulations and identify those that should be repealed to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens. It prioritizes for review regulations that are major rules, have been in effect more than 15 years, impose paperwork burdens that could be reduced substantially without significantly diminishing regulatory effectiveness, impose disproportionately high costs on small businesses, or could be strengthened in their effectiveness while reducing regulatory costs. It also sets other basic, common-sense criteria for recommending repeal of regulations, such as:
Whether they have been rendered obsolete by technological or market changes;
Whether they have achieved their goals and can be repealed without target problems recurring;
Whether they are ineffective;
Whether they overlap, duplicate, or conflict with other federal regulations or with state and local regulations;
Or whether they impose costs that are not justified by benefits produced for society within the United States.
Once the commission develops a set of recommendations, our bill requires that these recommendations be presented to the House and the Senate for approval by joint resolution. If Congress votes to approve the Commission’s recommendations, repeal must take place.
Mr. President, I have served long enough to know that Washington’s preferred solution to a tough problem is to create a commission that, once established, is rarely seen or heard from again, no matter how compelling its recommendations. Therefore, I want to lay out a few key features of how SCRUB avoids the pitfalls of so many do-nothing commissions as well as the problems encountered with other attempts to implement retrospective review.
First, our bill sets a hard target for the commission: the reduction of at least 15 percent in the cumulative costs of federal regulation with a minimal reduction in the overall effectiveness of such regulation. The Obama administration’s efforts at retrospective review—perhaps by mistake, perhaps by design—lacked a quantified cost reduction mandate. The result was the manipulation of the review process into a charade in which highly suspect new benefits were touted as a reason for adding costs. Our bill structures the retrospective review process in a way that prioritizes cost cutting while maintaining a responsible respect for benefits by calling for a minimal reduction in overall effectiveness.
Second, our bill does not artificially limit what costly and unjustified regulations could be repealed. Under some superficially similar but fundamentally unsound proposals for retrospective review, review would be arbitrarily limited by time or subject. Such limits would not only seriously hinder the prospect of meeting a meaningful cost reduction target, but also put numerous regulations off-limits for review just because they have seen minor tweaks after a certain arbitrary cut-off.
Third, our bill guarantees an up-or-down vote on the commission’s package of recommendations as a single package. This element of our bill represents the single most important feature that distinguishes it from a do-nothing commission that far too often characterizes Washington’s approach to intractable problems. We should be under no illusions that every single special interest in town is going to fight to preserve the favors they have won by manipulating the regulatory process over the years, and gathering the votes to get the commission’s recommendations enacted will certainly be a difficult endeavor. Following the models of other successful means by which Congress has addressed situations in which costs are concentrated but benefits are widely dispersed, it is absolutely vital that the commission’s recommendations be packed together as a single bill not subject to dismemberment by amendment.
Further, to put it simply, an up-or-down simple majority vote provides an actual viable pathway to repealing these regulations. Subjecting the package to the supermajority threshold would represent nothing but a death knell for the prospect of repealing these onerous rules. Moreover, because extended debate in the Senate exists to allow Senators to modify a proposal under debate, the lack of amendment opportunities seriously undermines the rationale for subjecting it to the supermajority threshold typically required to end debate. And this carefully tailored exception to the cloture rule is hardly a wild departure from precedent; rather, it follows the precedents set by numerous other pieces of legislation such as Trade Promotion Authority and the Congressional Review Act, both of which have long earned bipartisan support.
Fourth, for any given regulation, the Commission is authorized to recommend either immediate repeal or repeal through what we call cut-go procedures, whereby agencies, on a forward basis, would have to offset the costs of new regulations by repealing commission-identified regulations of equal or greater cost. These procedures allow immediate repeal in the most urgent cases and staggered repeals of other regulations to assure a smoother process for agencies and affected entities.
Mr. President, a process like cut-go proves critical for two particular reasons. First, it provides an avenue for addressing the many regulations on the books that impose unjustified costs in pursuit of a legitimate goal. While some regulations on the books could undoubtedly be repealed without any meaningful negative consequences, numerous others provide important protections, but in an inefficient and costly manner. The cut-go process allows agencies to repeal costly rules and replace them with more sensible ones—for example, prescribing performance standards instead of specific, oftentimes outdated technology—in a manner that reduces costs on the economy while maintaining or even improving regulatory effectiveness.
Second, the cut-go process holds agencies accountable to Congress’s laws, a perennial problem in the regulatory process. Bureaucratic agencies—so often devoted to increasing their own power and insensitive to the costs they impose on the economy—frequently use the excuse of limited resources to avoid retrospective review. By imposing a reasonable limit on prospective rulemaking until an agency complies with congressionally enacted repeal recommendations, cut-go ensures that the agency cannot simply ignore its duty to repeal.
Mr. President, these are just a handful of the numerous reasons why the SCRUB Act provides a uniquely viable pathway to accomplishing the longstanding bipartisan goal of repealing outdated and ineffective regulations. I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the Capitol who have joined in support of this bill, especially Senator Ernst for her leadership on this issue in the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Even though she has only been in the Senate for a year, her strong and effective leadership on this issue has been a model for how to hit the ground running. I call on my colleagues here in the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass this effective, commonsense approach to rooting out unjustifiably burdensome regulations.