The United States is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. The lines that clearly delineate the boundaries of the three branches of government, specifically, the executive and legislative branches, have become blurred. Presidents have claimed powers that far exceed what the framers intended, and Congress has been complicit by its failure to reestablish itself as the rightful and sole lawmaking authority.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, unveiled a plan this week that begins the process of reclaiming the ground Congress has ceded to the executive branch and its ever-growing army of unelected bureaucrats.
The regulatory state -- which has become an unconstitutional fourth branch of the federal government -- has been a serious problem for years. Notably, President George W. Bush aggressively expanded the regulatory state. “The Bush team,” Veronique de Rugy wrote in January 2009, “spent more taxpayer money on issuing and enforcing regulations than any previous administration in U.S. history.”
But it has only come into focus under President Barack Obama, who, boastfully, with his “pen and phone,” has frequently circumvented Congress to create law, and his regulatory agenda pales in comparison to his predecessor. Left to pick up the cost are businesses and consumers.
Regulations are the silent killer. In its most recent annual report, Ten Thousand Commandments, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) estimated that rules and regulations cost Americans nearly $1.9 trillion each year. At a cost of roughly $15,000 per family, regulations dwarf ordinary household expenditures, save for the cost of housing. In fact, these hidden taxes cost more than food, clothing, and health care, combined.
This $1.9 trillion in 2015 regulatory spending, not including the cost of state and local regulations, is a staggering 11 percent of of the $17.95 trillion U.S. GDP. If the regulatory state were its own country, it would have the tenth largest economy in the world, ahead of the Russian Federation, Canada, and Australia.
Ryan’s regulatory reform agenda takes aim at the regulatory state in several ways, such as enhancing congressional involvement and oversight of the rulemaking and regulatory process, ending the judiciary branch’s deference to executive-level agencies, and asserting more control over agencies in the appropriations process, and increasing oversight of the executive branch. Another part of the Speaker’s agenda is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, or REINS Act, which mandates that any major regulations, those with an annual cost of $100 million or more, must be approved by Congress.
The Obama administration has a particular proclivity for major regulations. As CEI noted, “President Obama’s seven years so far have averaged 81, or a 29 percent higher average annual output than that of Bush. Obama has already issued 570 major rules during his seven years, compared with Bush’s 505 over eight years.” This administration owns six of the seven highest annual numbers of pages added to the Federal Register, which documents all proposed and final rules and regulations.
The red tape of the regulatory state is strangling the economy, preventing Americans from experience the benefits of the prosperity and opportunity that would come if the economy were allowed to achieve its full potential. The problem, of course, is that President Obama and Democrats, as well as many big government Republicans, view the government as what makes America great.
If the Speaker and House Republican leadership can successfully move this regulatory reform agenda through the lower chamber, it would be a victory for grassroots conservatives, who are anxious for Republicans in Washington to fight back against the regulatory state.
Let’s hope that when this agenda clears the House, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acts to send it President Obama’s desk. Even if Obama vetoes these reforms, passage out of both chambers of will show that Republicans are serious about taking one of the real threats to our prosperity head on.
Adam Brandon is president and CEO of FreedomWorks.