COLUMN: Who’s Watching the Regulators? Self-Government Requires More Accountability

August 17, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

Our Founding Fathers possessed the wisdom and foresight to create a constitutional republic that limited the power of the federal government through the principle of the separation of powers and by holding lawmakers accountable to the consent of the governed. They would likely be shocked and alarmed by the massive burden of regulations imposed by today’s unelected federal bureaucracies.

Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution clearly gives Congress the responsibility for all legislation: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

Over time, however, Congress has had more and more of its legislative authority usurped by the executive branch agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. From the mid-20th Century, the reach of the administrative state has grown exponentially. According to a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, federal agencies issued 3,554 final rules in 2014, the same year that Congress passed 224 laws signed by the President. That’s a ratio of 16 new regulations for every law in just a single year.

Federal regulations place pressure on job creators, and small businesses struggle the most to comply with reams of federal rules. Federal regulations cost small companies around $11,000 per employee. Compliance with Obamacare alone costs $15,000 per year, per business, according to the National Small Business Association. The cost of federal regulations is estimated to be as high as $1.9 trillion, equal to $14,976 per U.S. household and 11.5% of the U.S. real Gross Domestic Product.

Who is keeping tabs on the flood of red tape? Unlike members of Congress or even the President, administrative agencies do not answer to voters. Elected officials, not bureaucracies, should take responsibility for major rules. The American people should know exactly who to hold accountable.

There is a solution to hit the brakes on bureaucratic overreach. Last month, I was proud to vote for the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which I cosponsored to restore congressional responsibility for federal regulation. The REINS Act would require all new major regulations—defined as those with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more—to receive an up-or-down vote in both the House and in the Senate, as well as the signature of the President, before the regulation can be enforced on the American public.

The growth of unelected bureaucracies’ ability to create regulations and increase their own authority is a direct threat to self-government. Under President Obama, the federal government has issued an average of 81 major regulations per year.

Running a farm is just like running a small business. As a farmer, I have personal experience dealing with frustrating, complicated federal rules. While some may be necessary, many are burdensome, making compliance especially difficult for small businesses. For the sake of constitutional balance, economic growth and commonsense, Americans’ elected representatives—not bureaucrats—should be held accountable for major federal rules.