Wall Street Journal | January 25, 2017
When President Trump delivered his inaugural address last week, he declared that “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” Note that he said we are transferring power, in the present tense. The House has already begun turning the president’s words into reality by targeting the part of Washington that poses the greatest threat to America’s people, economy, and Constitution: the federal bureaucracy.
Washington’s many agencies, bureaus, and departments propagate rules that weigh down businesses, destroy jobs, and limit American freedoms. Career bureaucrats who never face the voters wield punishing authority with little to no accountability. If there’s a swamp in Washington, this is it.
In President Obama’s final year the Federal Register hit 97,110 pages—longer by nearly 18,000 pages, or 15 King James Bibles, than in 2008. Federal regulations cost the American people about $1.89 trillion every year, according to an estimate by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. That’s more than 10% of GDP, or roughly $15,000 per American household. The Obama administration has also burdened the public with nearly 583 million hours of compliance over the past eight years, according to the American Action Forum. That’s averages to nearly five hours of paperwork for every full-time employee in the country.
Faced with a metastasizing bureaucracy, the House is undertaking structural and specific reform to offer the nation a shot at reviving the economy, restoring the Constitution, and improving government accountability, all at once. The plan to strip power from the bureaucracy and give it back to the people has two steps.
First, we began structural reform by passing the REINS Act, an acronym for Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny. If the bill becomes law, new regulations that cost $100 million or more will require congressional approval before they take effect. The House also passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would require agencies to choose the least-costly option available to accomplish their goals. That bill would also prohibit large rules from going into effect while they are being challenged in court. Further, it would end “Chevron deference,” a doctrine that stacks the legal system in favor of the bureaucracy by directing judges to defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own rules.
Second, the House next week will begin repealing specific regulations using the Congressional Review Act, which allows a majority in the House and Senate to overturn any rules finalized in the past 60 legislative days.
Perhaps no aspect of America’s economy has been as overregulated as energy. So the House will repeal the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule, which could destroy tens of thousands of mining jobs and put up to 64% of the country’s coal reserves off limits, according to the National Mining Association.
Likewise, the Obama administration moved at the 11th hour to limit the oil-and-gas industry through a new methane regulation. It could cost up to $1 billion by 2025, the American Petroleum Institute estimates, even though the industry is already subject to the Clean Air Act and has leveraged technological advances to dramatically reduce methane emissions. The additional regulation would force small and struggling operations—in the West in particular—to close up shop, which is why it will be one of the first to go.
The House will also take the ax to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s disclosure rule for resource extraction, which adds an unreasonable compliance burden on American energy companies that isn’t applied to their foreign competitors. This rule, which closely mimics a regulation already struck down by the courts, would put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
The bureaucracy under President Obama has also threatened America’s constitutional rights. A new rule from the Social Security Administration would increase scrutiny on up to 4.2 million disabled Americans if they attempt to purchase firearms. This would elevate the Social Security Administration to the position of an illegitimate arbiter of the Second Amendment. And in an affront to basic due process, the bureaucracy has attempted to blacklist from federal contracts any business accused of violating labor laws—before the company even has a chance to defend itself in court.
With President Trump’s signature, every one of these regulations will be overturned. In the weeks to come, the House and Senate will use the Congressional Review Act to repeal as many job-killing and ill-conceived regulations as possible. That’s how to protect American workers and businesses, defend the Constitution, and turn words into actions.