Jeb Bush Unveils Regulatory Reform Agenda

Traditionally, presidents named Bush have not been friends of limited government. George H.W. Bush raised taxes after his famous “read my lips” speech, and oversaw the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. He also shepherded the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, to trial lawyers’ unending gratitude. George W. Bush created the TSA (currently being sued by CEI), nearly doubled federal spending, increased federal involvement in state and local education, doled out massive energy and agriculture pork, and helped set the stage for the bailouts and stimulus spending that marked the early Obama administration.

If Jeb Bush becomes president, will he be different? This analyst is not optimistic. But there is a lot to like in the regulatory reform plan he unveiled this week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Whoever wins the 2016 election would be wise to enact many of Bush’s proposals.

Bush endorsed the REINS Act, which would require Congress to hold votes on every new regulation with more than $100 million in annual costs. By way of contrast, President Obama has said he will veto REINS if it reaches his desk. REINS has passed the House for the last several Congresses, but the Senate has never acted on it, even with its new GOP majority. Wayne Crews and I have repeatedly written in favor of REINS, most recently here. It is a minor reform, but would still make an important step in giving more accountability to agencies, and restoring a balance of powers that has gone far out of whack. So on this count, well played, Jeb!

Bush also proposes a one-in, one-out reform, under which an agency wishing to issue a new regulation would have to balance the new rule by repealing an equivalent dollar amount worth of old regulations. Both Canada and the U.K. have had some success with variations on one-in, one-out, and the idea has attracted bipartisan support, from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and in legislative form in Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) RED Tape Act.

The article also contains nods to federalism, cost-benefit analysis, and other fundamentals of substantive reform. Bush also expresses his intention to repeal specific rules ranging from the EPA’s more egregious recent abuses, to the FCC’s net neutrality power grab, to “significant portions” of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill.

Many of those specific regulations do deserve repeal. But I urge all candidates from all parties to keep this point in mind: the rulemaking process itself is the root problem, not so much the rules themselves. The current rulemaking process exempts almost all rules from cost estimates. Once enacted, there is no requirement to see if they’re actually working as advertised. Agencies often act unilaterally, enacting major rules without input from Congress. Legally mandated transparency reports are now routinely late, or not even published at all.

The current regulatory rules are the reason for today’s dismal regulatory results. So long as the regulatory process remains as it is, it will generate similar results—3,500-plus new regulations every year, hundreds of billions of new costs adding to the $1.9 trillion stock of existing rules, increasing redundancy, minimal modernization, and so on.

So while there is much to like in Jeb Bush’s plan, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. A fine start, but more, please.

For more, see CEI’s extensive library of regulatory reform ideas.