Congress and the regulators
Federal regulations annually impose a $1.9 trillion cost to our economy. These rules kill jobs, depress wages and raise prices for us all while providing little benefit to our society. Federal regulators received a long overdue smackdown from the judicial branch this month. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stand down from enforcing its very costly new power plant emissions rules pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the EPA by 29 states.
Experts on all sides concede it was unprecedented for the court to bench the regulators while a lawsuit against their rules was pending. But this unprecedented move should become routine scrutiny, and it shouldn’t stop with just the courts taking a stand. It’s time to rein in the regulatory branch.
We don’t teach our children about the regulatory branch in government class because it isn’t outlined in our Constitution. The constitutionally approved order is that the legislative branch (Congress) is supposed to write the laws, the executive (the president) is supposed to implement laws, and the judiciary (Supreme Court) is supposed to interpret laws.
But for too long Congress has been writing laws that surrender the power to rewrite laws to the regulators, and the courts have been letting it happen. The result is the creation of an entity not found in our Constitution. That entity is an unelected and unaccountable fourth branch of government, the regulatory branch, presumably controlled by the president. It has assumed the power to change laws without Congress, and to enforce harsh new regulations that impose massive costs on our economy that would never pass Congress.
The Clean Air Act as it applies to power plant emissions meant one thing for decades, but was then literally changed by the EPA two summers ago to mean something vastly more extensive and expensive to consumers and businesses. The regulatory branch figured it had the power to act alone, without a vote of Congress changing the law, or even a court decision reinterpreting it.
The Congress, the people’s representatives, need to reassert control.
One important reform would be the proposed Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act), which would require congressional approval for any regulatory rule change imposing more than $100 million in annual economic impact. It has the widespread support of Congress, but President Barack Obama pledges a veto if it ever reaches his desk. If nothing else, the next Congress, working with the next president, needs to make passage of REINS a top priority.
But today’s Congress has a constitutional bargaining chip it should use: the power of the purse. If the regulators are denied funding, then the $1.9 trillion in rules cannot be enforced. In exchange for approving each regulatory department’s annual budget, Congress should insist upon the authority to review and overrule the most economically damaging rules, and sunset others.
Unelected and largely unaccountable regulators have become an illegitimate fourth branch of government. It is time to take our government back.
Paul Mitchell, Dryden, is a Republican candidate running for Congress in Michigan’s 10th District and former CEO of Ross Education.