On stage at the Republican primary debate in Rochester, Michigan, on November 9th, Rick Perry’s thick brows bunched together amid beads of sweat as he struggled to remember the final federal agency he planned to eliminate. “What’s the third one there? Let’s see. Commerce, Education, and the, uh, ummm …”

Mitt Romney, to Perry’s right, offered, “EPA?”

No one blinked. After all, Perry had called the Environmental Protection Agency a “cemetery for jobs.” Michele Bachmann proposed renaming it “the job-killing organization of America” and promised that if she’s elected it will “have doors locked and lights turned off.” Newt Gingrich would replace it with an ill-defined “Environmental Solutions Agency.” Herman Cain would have eliminated the EPA and “start[ed] all over.” Romney, being Romney, says that he supports it in “much of its mission, yes; but in some of its mission, no.” In today’s Republican Party, it looks like that is the moderate position.

ban-the-EPA T-shirtThat is the beginning of my new piece in The Washington Monthly about what’s likely to happen to EPA and its regulatory powers if Republicans sweep to power in November. It’s part of a special package the Monthly is running called “What if Obama loses? Imagining the consequences of a GOP victory.” It’s got fascinating (and terrifying) contributions from Norm Ornstein, Dahlia Lithwick, Dave Weigel, and others.

I don’t have much to add to the piece. I’ll just emphasize that people should look past GOP opposition to this EPA rule or that EPA rule. They’re going after the whole enchilada. With the REINS Act, in particular, the GOP means to permanently cripple the ability of EPA — indeed, any regulatory agency — to issue science-based rules.

REINS would do so by requiring that every “major rule” (with an impact of $100 million or more, between 50 and 100 a year) be approved by Congress. That means if a rule isn’t voted on in 70 legislative days, it dies. If the House can muster a majority against it, it dies. If a minority in the Senate filibusters it, it dies.

Keep in mind, these are not new laws we’re talking about. These are the mechanisms by which regulatory agencies enforce laws already on the books. REINS would enable a unified minority to routinely do exactly what the GOP has been trying to do by blocking Obama’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: nullify a democratically passed law. An executive branch that is still (fitfully) functional would become hostage to the grotesque dysfunction and corruption of Congress.

It would mean a fundamental change to the way the government works, and as the Monthly issue shows, it’s only one of a dozen such gambits. You’d never know it from reading the numbing charge-and-counter-charge of U.S. political journalism, but Republicans have gone crazy and are systematically attempting to dismantle America’s social contract.