In scarcely more than two dozen words, Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution lays out a singular idea at the root of any serious plan for Congress:
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.
The Framers of the Constitution vested onto one institution, Congress, the power to write the laws. Yet today, Congress’ work has grown to intrude upon areas the Founders never imagined—from the products we buy to how we work. Perhaps most expansively, statutes provide direction to a far-reaching federal regulatory apparatus. Unaccountable regulators rule Americans’ lives and livelihoods.
Although Congress passes and the president signs only a few hundred bills into law every year, many of these are hundreds, even thousands of pages long. But the scope of the federal government’s reach cannot be quantified by page numbers. That’s because many of these laws give broad discretion to federal regulators to force sweeping change over vast swaths of the American economy. In 2015, we shouldered an estimated $1.885 trillion of federal regulatory costs. The Code of Federal Regulations, the catalog of all federal agency rules and regulations, runs nearly 180,000 pages. And new rules are added every year.
We often hear that, absent a clear threat to the nation, Congress cannot come together, given strong ideological polarization among its members. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, major legislation did pass in the 107th and 108th Congresses. However, the past 15 years have seen fundamental overhauls of major sectors of the economy that cannot be explained by external threats. From the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley financial services “reform” law to Medicare expansion in 2004 to the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Dodd-Frank, and restrictions on energy, the argument against a “do nothing” Congress is strong.
It is time for a reckoning. At CEI, we believe a clear agenda is necessary to move America toward economic growth, prosperity, and liberty, which enable individuals to chart their own paths in a world of empowering technological advances. Congress must overcome the inertia of bureaucratic expansion to look at meaningful evidence and revisit policies that have produced significant costs and negligible benefits.
More importantly, it is past time for Congress to assert its rightful constitutional authority under Article I, Section 1 and fundamentally reform an unbounded regulatory state. The new edition of CEI’s Agenda for Congress, Free to Prosper, offers a detailed set of recommendations, backed by legal, economic, and policy analysis, to help accomplish this objective.
There are clear areas for commonsense prescriptions that accentuate consumer choice and reduce the negative effects of rigid, centralized regulatory dictates. One important tool available to Congress is the rarely used Congressional Review Act, to pass resolutions of disapproval of costly or controversial agency rules. Congress should institute a regulatory budget—an idea with bipartisan appeal—and pass the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require Congress to vote on all major rules before they can go into effect. In addition, there will be opportunities for the 115th Congress to implement regulatory budgeting, improve cost-benefit analysis, and review systems to increase regulatory transparency and accountability.
At CEI, we are ready to help all political leaders understand and implement these ideas. The following proposals are designed to reduce the federal regulatory cost burden and unleash America’s entrepreneurial, wealth-creating potential.
Banking and Finance. In a free and growing economy, a healthy financial system helps coordinate investors, enterprises, risk, and innovation to the benefit of all. Increasing the cost of access to capital or restricting it through artificial limits harmfully diverts resources toward politically favored ends and away from the most productive channels of activity.
Labor and Employment. People adapt to developments in an open market economy. By contrast, centrally managed regulation tends toward capture by vested interests and is wholly resistant to changing conditions of a modern workplace. Pro-growth policies emphasize worker flexibility.
Energy. Access to reliable, affordable energy is essential to prosperity and human well-being. Carbon-based fuels are reliable and affordable sources of energy for a growing and developing world. While there is serious scientific debate about the magnitude and rate of climate change, Congress must focus on the appropriate policy choices available. National and international campaigns to tax, regulate, and ban carbon fuels must be rejected in favor of affordable, plentiful, and reliable energy to make the world safer and the environment more livable.
Environment. Private property and secure property rights are essential to freedom and prosperity. Private landowners are better at environmental stewardship than government, yet federal regulations often undermine private conservation, and provide no incentives for regulators to contain costs because the costs are borne by landowners. The solution is to enact meaningful compensation for regulatory takings. Moreover, it is time to stop the locking up of federal land and restore multiple-use management and resource production.
Technology and Telecommunications. The Internet and the information technology revolution have fueled innovation that has helped create tens of millions of high-skilled jobs and improve lives around the world. In a world of radical change for technology and communications, lawmakers should avoid new mandates or prohibitions in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Meanwhile, they should aggressively cut through convoluted statutory and regulatory schemes that have long outlived their usefulness.
Transportation. Transportation infrastructure and operations should be paid for by those who directly benefit from their use. As lawmakers consider how to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure, they should keep in mind that the private sector is generally better than government at financing and operating well-functioning transportation systems, and at lower cost.
Food, Drug, and Consumer Choice. Consumers, not government, are generally the best judges of the value and quality of individual products and services—including the foods they eat, the medicines they put in their bodies, and how they choose to spend their time and money. Government regulation of consumer choices should be limited to policing the marketplace to protect consumers against false claims. Where safety restrictions are truly needed, theys should be based on the best available scientific data, while allowing producers and consumers the widest possible range of choice.
For more information on each of the above policy areas, please read the full document.