REINS and RAA: Do for-profit colleges really need LESS regulation?

The “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011” (H.R. 3010/S.1606; the RAA) and the “Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011” (H.R.10/S. 299; the REINS Act) are two terribly disruptive pieces of legislation. Together, they pose a huge threat to the safeguards that protect the food we eat, the air we breathe, and more relevant to the topic of this particular space, access to quality higher education.

The REINS Act is the signature bill of anti-government attacks on public protections and it aims to destroy a century’s worth of progress in environmental, health, workplace, consumer, and financial protections.
 The REINS Act is an underhanded way to get rid of existing laws that some legislators do not support. It would require both the House and Senate to approve all major regulations in an impossibly short 70 legislative days.  Regulations that are not approved would become void.  Simply put, any chamber can unilaterally stop the implementation of any agency’s environmental, health, or safety regulation by sitting on their hands and allowing the clock to run out—even major regulations with overwhelming public support, such as the the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

The Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) would also undermine the government’s ability to protect the public from harm and would give industry lobbyists even more power to challenge new rules while limiting citizens’ rights to do so.  It is a dream come true for corporate special interests. The RAA greatly expands the kinds of ‘new rules’ or policies that must undergo a formal, highly bureaucratic rulemaking process.  In many cases, this process can take a decade or longer to complete and creates additional opportunities for special interests who oppose addressing a safety failure or an environmental threat to use the courts and high-priced lawyers to delay protections that have been years in the making.   It would also make the cost of doing businesses the primary factor in setting all government rules, with the public interest a secondary consideration.

The RAA would change the current cost-benefit analysis requirements of the regulatory process and expand them to include indirect and cumulative costs.  In addition, the agency would have to prove that its proposed rule was the least costly alternative.  Even if the proposed regulation was able to survive these hurdles, then anyone—and I do mean anyone (health care insurer or a local priest)—could challenge the agency and demand that a court review the proposed rule.  It is purposeful overregulation so that no regulations can be passed.

So what is at stake if this legislation passes? If REINS and the RAA pass we can expect a weakening, if not a reversal, of the safeguards against predatory career colleges and career programs that promise their graduate’s employment prospects and an opportunity to jump start their careers, but actually deliver substandard training and massive debts that students can’t repay.

According to FinAid, we have a $1 trillion student loan debt crisis. In June 2010, for the first time in history, outstanding student loan debt exceeded credit card debt in the country.

The relatively unregulated for-profit education industry enrolls less than 11% of all students, but accounts for 26% of federal student aid and represents nearly HALF of all federal student loan defaults. The Department of Education should be allowed to continue to do the work of regulating this industry in a way that protects both students and taxpayers with out the unnecessary interference of additional procedural hurdles.

Americans deserve untainted food, clean air and water; access to quality higher education. Both the REINS Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act would do harm to these goals that, as a society, we have advanced for nearly 100 years.

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