Washington will soon be engulfed by twin fiscal fights that will largely define the size and scope of the federal government moving forward. The first fight is over federal debt ceiling, and the need to pair any increase in the overall level of federal indebtedness with real, serious spending reductions.
The second fight will be over House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget. These fights over spending are enormous, but they risk ignoring another critical dimension to the size and intrusiveness of the federal government: regulation.
The United States economy needs a time-out from new regulations. Time to for us to catch our breath, come to grips with, and begin to reduce the already-stifling regulatory burden. Congress must attach a two-year time out with no new federal regulations to the must-pass debt limit increase. If the country cannot take a break from increasing our debt, surely Congress can ensure the business community has two years to help the economy recover to pay off that debt.
Without question, containing federal spending would be a remarkable achievement. But some of the most expensive federal policies for the economy spend relatively little money, because instead of taxing the money and then spending it, Congress opts to simply order individuals and businesses to spend their own money to comply with expensive regulatory mandates.
Moreover, if we structurally limit federal spending without regulatory reform, many tax-and-spend policies can be accomplished instead as regulatory mandates.
Regulations are crippling American business, undermining our competitiveness, and sending jobs abroad. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy quantified the total cost of federal regulations in 2010 at an astonishing $1.75 trillion.
The cost for small businesses last year topped $10,500 per-employee, per-year – 36 percent higher than for their big business competitors. Those costs are far too high, but instead of looking to cut them, the Obama administration is eager to pile on an unprecedented array of costly new regulations. That’s why we a regulatory time out. No new regulations until we get all the old ones under control.
Almost every businessperson in this country has a nightmare story about spending enormous sums of money to comply with the latest regulatory requirements – often to be forced to turn around and do something entirely different when the whims of regulators change.
The most important, innovative idea to limit the growth of regulation didn’t come from a Washington think tank. It didn’t come from a university. It came from a remarkable man from Alexandria, Kentucky named Lloyd Rogers. His idea, enthusiastically embraced by his local congressman, Geoff Davis, became legislation called the REINS Act, which was included in the official House Republican platform document, the Pledge to America. As the Pledge explains the bill, it would “require congressional approval for any new federal regulation that has an annual cost to our economy of $100 million.”
The House is expected to pass the REINS Act, and Senate Democrats will have an awfully difficult time explaining why they don’t think they should even be required to vote on regulations that have an economic impact running from $100 million up into perhaps the trillions of dollars. (It’s difficult to estimate the full costs of everything the EPA is considering with respect to global warming regulations, but the costs could well be in the trillions.)
Still, there is a good chance Democrats -- who want to avoid political responsibility for reckless regulations they support -- could stop the bill. And there is also a chance President Obama would veto it to try to avoid creating political accountability for his sweeping regulatory agenda, which includes the FCC regulating the Internet, a variety of union-driven efforts to enact elements of the card check bill via regulation, a de facto moratorium on energy exploration and production, and frighteningly anti-business implementations of both ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial takeover bill.
We simply cannot afford to let Obama’s regulators run wild and impose enormous costs on our economy and our economic freedom. It’s therefore critical that a regulatory time out become part of the big fights brewing in Congress – along with deep cuts in federal spending. A regulatory time out would prohibit any new regulations from moving forward, holding Obama’s regulatory hordes at bay until such time as meaningful process reform, including the REINS Act, can be passed into law.
Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity.