A top 10 list for Congress in 2014

I am no David Letterman, but I appreciate a good Top Ten list.  As we enter 2014, it occurred to me that Congress could do with a Top 10 Things to Do before the year is out.

1.            Make the regulatory state more transparent and accountable. The Senate should follow the House’s lead and pass the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (H.R. 367, S. 15) making major regulations-those costing $100 million or more annually-subject to explicit congressional approval. Pass the Regulatory Improvement Act (S. 1390), sponsored by Sens. Angus King (I-Me.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), to establish an independent regulatory review commission. Terrible regulations hang around for years-it’s time to force them into review.

2.            Rein in FDA nanny state overreach. Enact legislation to give critically ill patients the choice to use medicines that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). People with deadly illnesses should be able to determine whether the risks of unproven new medicines are worth it. Congress should also stop the FDA from implementing paternalistic bans or restrictions on trans fat, salt, sugar, and other politically disfavored ingredients. Restricting Americans’ food choices is a “cure” worse than the disease.

3.            Resist efforts to stifle food biotechnology. We don’t need laws mandating special labeling for genetically modified foods, which improve new plant and animal breeding techniques and pose no demonstrable health risk.

4.            Let airlines and travelers decide in-flight communications policy. There is no technical or safety reason to ban in-flight cell phone use. I fly 100,000 miles a year and I don’t want a guy yacking into his phone at 35,000 feet, either. But airlines know that, and this is one of those times when “the market” really will figure it out. And to all those Republicans supporting such a ban-shame on you. You’ll have no moral high ground to stand on in future fights against overregulation.

5.            Make government employee unions more accountable to taxpayers. Today, more union members work for government than for private businesses. For unions, that means their best prospects lie in increasing the size of government. Congress can fight back on behalf of taxpayers by ending the practice known as “official time,” or “release time,” whereby government employees conduct union business on the taxpayer time.

6.            Resist efforts to bail out underfunded state pensions. For years, many state and local governments have failed to properly fund their employee pension plans, due in large part to dodgy accounting methods based on overly optimistic investment return projections-even as their budgets exploded. Congress should resist calls to bail out profligate states. In addition, Congress should push for the Government Accounting Standards Board to adopt sound accounting standards for public pensions that reflect actual risk and aren’t prone to manipulation.

7.            End subsidies for uneconomic “renewable” energy industries. Specifically, lawmakers should let the wind energy tax credit subsidy expire and end the ethanol fuel mandate. It’s time to kick loser industries off the public dole.

8.            Call on President Obama to delay new EPA rules regulating carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants. These costly, economically painful restrictions won’t make a dent in global temperatures but will raise energy costs on America’s struggling economy.

9.            Repeal the Volcker Rule and the rest of the Dodd-Frank albatross on Main Street banks and businesses.  The Volcker rule hurts community banks by forcing them to sell safe assets at steep losses. Congress could repeal it or lessen its burden in 2014.

10.         Resist campaigns to regulate chemicals out of existence. Consumer products are under assault-including everyday products in your supermarket aisle. The current Toxic Substances Control Act has a science-based risk standard. Let’s not substitute that with onerous regulations based on irrational fears. Similarly, regulators and legislators could resist the urge to impose additional bans on valuable chemical technologies like Bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in steel can lining to prevent pathogens in our food.

Over all, we might do well in 2014 to also gain some historical perspective. Remember that technology, innovation, and a measure of economic freedom have brought us to the point where life expectancy in the Western World is the longest it’s ever been, and more people than ever are escaping poverty. In 1970, 27 percent of the world’s population lived on $1 or less per day. That figure is now 5.4 percent. Half a century ago, more than 100 children of every 1,000 who were born perished within a year. That figure has plunged 80 percent.

We are all better off thanks to the efforts of countless individual inventors, tinkerers, investors, entrepreneurs, and just plain folks who are finding better ways to do things every day.  Keeping that lesson in mind, trusting people to order their own lives, should be a top resolution for lawmakers in Washington this year. Just imagine, Congress could be a voice of reason in this crazy world.