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Reining in the Executive Branch Bureaucracy, Part 10: Congress Should Create an Annual Regulatory Reduction Commission

Since the Federalist Papers, America has debated “Energy in the Executive.” But President Obama’s 2014 agenda framed by his State of the Union address heralds a class warfare agenda, one fusing an “income inequality” theme with federal industrial policy and other activism.

When I can act on my own without Congress, I’m going to do so,” Obama promises. This spend-and-transfer fixation makes Americans poorer and dependent except for the lucky few running things.

Others have argued for federal budget rationality as essential to any anti-poverty agenda. This series proposes a greater prosperity enhancing opportunity, streamlining the nearly $2 trillion regulatory state and ending the uncertainty, wealth destruction and job loss it creates.

Congressional accountability and even something as dramatic as passage of the REINS Act (to require Congress to affirm major agency rules) would target future mandates rather than the existing regulatory state.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) pegs costs at up to $84 billion as of 2013 (Draft Report on Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulation, p. 3), a far from inclusive underestimate.

To deal with the existing enterprise of hundreds of billions of dollars annually, Congress should implement an ongoing Regulatory Reduction Commission to streamline aggregate regulation. Former Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) first proposed such an idea, modeled on the military Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC).

The Progressive Policy Institute has embraced a similar idea, calling it a Regulatory Improvement Commission, perhaps making this now bipartisan idea capable of the most traction in a regulatory reform campaign.

OMB should supplement such an effort by recommending rules for rollback, creating a culture of repeal, as noted in Part 8 of "Reining In The Executive Branch."

The BRAC model, consisting of a bipartisan, independent body, helped resolve the politically difficult job of closing obsolete military bases one at a time by instead bundling them for simultaneously consideration. BRAC formulated a list of recommended base closures which were set to go into effect unless Congress enacted a joint resolution of disapproval. If no such resolution was passed, the closures were automatic after a period of time.

Carrying the technique over to the regulatory arena, one option is for Congress to appoint a bipartisan Regulatory Reduction Commission to hold hearings assessing agency regulations, and from that survey assemble a yearly package of proposed regulatory reductions. The package would then be subjected to an up or down, all-or-nothing vote by Congress, with no amendments permitted.

The approved package would then be sent to the president for a signature. Any Commission recommendation that required no legislation could be implemented by the president. Alternatively the commission recommendations could take effect unless both houses of Congress disapproved of the list, more like BRAC.

The filtering process of holding hearings combined with the bundling of regulations from across the spectrum of government activity would make the Commission’s recommendations more difficult to oppose politically compared with alternatives. As in the base closure model, everybody stands a good chance of getting “hit,” thus the bundling provides political cover.

A Commission could be kept active for as many years as Congress deems necessary. Streamlining rules would make annual surveys of the regulatory state more manageable and improve openness and the quality of disclosure over time, improving the annual Transparency Report process.

There exists other precedent for the streamlining besides BRAC. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom both implemented reform models, setting up autonomous, non-governmental bodies to review regulation (the Regulatory Reduction Committee in the Netherlands and the Better Regulation Commission in the UK). Both set goals to reduce regulatory burdens by 25 percent for four year periods, which appear to have been achieved with some success. (See the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development "Better Regulation" reports for the UK and the Netherlands.)

Next Time: Congress Should Sunset Rules and Implement a “One In, One Out” Procedure

Also in The “Reining in the Executive Branch Bureaucracy” Series:
Part 1: Measure Regulatory Costs
Part 2: Regulatory Benefits? Maybe Not
Part 3: Make Regulations Transparent Like the Budget
Part 4: Put a Spotlight on Economically Significant Rules
Part 5: Categorize Regulations by Impact
Part 6: Deal With The Deadweight Cost Of Regulation
Part 7: Recognize and Reduce Indirect Costs of Regulation
Part 8: Create a Culture of Repealing Regulations
Part 9: Congress Must Affirm Final Agency Rules before They Are Law