But don’t bureaucrats decide only the minor details of regulations? Sadly, no. In 2010 alone, regulatory agencies issued a torrent of major new regulations costing a staggering (and likely underestimated) sum of $26.5 billion. That sticker shock has not slowed bureaucrats one bit; there are currently 144 major regulations pending that would each cost at least $100 million.
Among the most egregious of these new regulations is a recently released 893-page plan by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to raise vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. These regulations will (by the agencies’ own estimates) cost the economy $8.5 billion per year and raise the price of cars by at least $2,000–$2,800, and yet they have not been authorized by any elected officials.
Leftist commentators have predictably denounced the REINS Act as a radical Republican ploy to “cripple” the regulatory agencies responsible for public safety. Liberals are particularly quick to paint menacing images of “caring” experts being overruled by mean, partisan politicians. In the words of one environmental lobbying group, “Do you want Representatives to decide what level of mercury pollution endangers our health or you want medical experts to make this assessment?”
These criticisms are highly misleading. The REINS Act in no way prevents agencies from enforcing existing laws and regulations. Nor would it result in politicians having to decide all the technical details of regulations. Rather, the REINS Act simply mandates that any new, very costly regulation must get a simple up-or-down vote in Congress.
Furthermore, these criticisms forget that lawmaking is inherently a political not a technical matter. Experts and scientists can and should explain the technical details of different plans, but, in a self-governing nation, it is up to the people’s representatives to decide whether a plan is worth enacting. New laws (for that is what major regulations are) need to go through the legislature. This is hardly a radical idea.
It is true that the REINS Act would make bureaucrats more accountable to Congress. They should be. America was not designed to be a government of technocrats. Rather, it is a republican government based on the consent of the people. The REINS Act is no silver-bullet solution to the problems of the administrative state, but it is a practical step toward restoring constitutional government.
Mike Kelsey is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. Click here for more information on interning at Heritage.
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