Politics & Policy

End Regulatory Overreach

Metastasizing regulations are strangling our economy. We need to hold Congress accountable.

Regulators regulate. In the absence of adult supervision they still regulate.

Think about that a moment. Every morning tens of thousands of persons (no one really knows how many) go to work, with no higher calling than making regulations that the rest of us have to live with. Who voted for them?

How busy have these thousands of regulators been? The numbers tell the story. The first Federal Register was issued in 1936. It contained eleven pages! For the first 147 years of the nation’s existence under the Constitution we somehow managed to get by with only eleven pages of regulations. During that time we went from an insignificant state to the most powerful and economically vibrant nation on the globe. By 2008 the Federal Register contained 31,879 documents and 79,435 pages, while the Code of Federal Regulations comprised 163,333 pages in 226 individual books. Rules have been accumulating at a rate of nine pages a day since 1936.

This is nothing compared to what the Obama administration has in store. The Federal Register has grown 20 percent in just the last two years, and there are another 4,225 rules already written and winding their way through the system. And this does not even include what Obamacare and Dodd-Frank are going to do. Just policing the regulations already in place costs $55.4 billion a year. But this pales in comparison to the $1.75 trillion hidden tax that regulations place on the economy every year.

In recent months the regulatory assault has reached new heights. Does anyone really believe it is a good idea to allow a few bureaucrats to close down oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, at a time when we feel it necessary to release oil from the country’s strategic reserve? Is it truly possible that four unelected functionaries on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) can order Boeing to scrap a billion-dollar investment in South Carolina, because they want Boeing’s production plant built in a more “labor-friendly” state? Not satisfied with this, the NLRB’s gang of four went on to unilaterally change rules for voting for union representation that had been settled for more than 60 years. The NLRB was supposed to be the neutral arbiter that would bring labor and management together. Now it has chosen sides, and, if the gang of four get their way, it will have all but ensured a renewed era of union/management warfare.

We also were recently informed that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is subpoenaing Google’s records to see if it is misusing its search dominance. The news came at an interesting time, as IBM was celebrating its 100th birthday. Most of the news articles celebrating this milestone mentioned that what made IBM’s longevity a true wonderment was that it had survived numerous assaults on it by our own government. Does anyone remember the posters featuring the $200 million the United States spent trying to wreck Microsoft before 2001, compared to the zero dollars spent hunting Osama bin Laden? If you want jobs to come back, you need a government that can refrain from putting successful businesses into its cross-hairs.

When Congress created the NLRB, I doubt that it meant for the agency to declare war on American business. Likewise, no one in Congress assumed the FTC would launch a crusade targeting the most successful American companies. Did anyone in Congress guess, when it created the Energy Department, that it would take as its priority mission to reduce the amount of energy resources available to Americans? And did anyone in Congress ever guess that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would work day and night to drive a stake through the heart of American industry?

The worst part of it is that none of the bureaucrats making these economy-crushing decisions can be held accountable for their actions. We can’t vote the NLRB’s gang of four out of office. We can’t throw out the heads of the EPA, the Energy Department, the FTC, or any other regulatory agency. And even if we could, the tens of thousands of bureaucrats they command would continue churning out new regulations from now until doomsday.

What is required is that Congress take charge and be responsible for its creations. After passing a new law, Congress can no longer be permitted to hand the regulatory implementation of it off to a faceless government agency, and by doing so wash its hands of the outcome of its laws. Instead, every regulation must be presented to Congress before it takes effect. Congress must vote to approve or disapprove every regulation within 90 or so days of its submission by the regulatory body. No vote, no regulation. Moreover, any regulation that has a projected economic impact (positive or negative) of over $100 million must be voted on individually and not be included as part of a regulatory bundle. I would go even further and require that every regulation already in place that has an economic impact of over $100 million must also receive Congress’s blessing within a year or be rescinded.

Such a requirement will make Congress accountable for everything it enacts. It will also tell the voters whom they can hold responsible when regulations run amok. Lawmaking by regulatory bureaucrats must come to an end. The Constitution gave the power to make laws to Congress. Congress needs to reclaim that power.

— Jim Lacey is professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College. He is the author of the recently released The First Clash and Keep from All Thoughtful Men. The opinions in this article are entirely his own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or any of its members.


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