Congress can promote growth by lowering regulatory barriers for consumers and businesses

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Three quarters of Americans surveyed by Gallup say they disapprove of the way Congress handles the job of governing. We also know that about 8 in 10 registered voters (79 percent) say the economy is a priority guiding their voting decisions, according to polling by Pew Research Center. Clearly, there is a big disconnect between the job lawmakers are doing and what regular citizens want. But what can our elected representatives do to narrow that gap and restore confidence in Congress and the nation?

They can start by applying age-old advice: When in a hole, stop digging. Instead, look for ways to get out of the hole, starting with realistic, achievable policy improvements that can have powerful ramifications as they spread across the economy. To that end, the Competitive Enterprise Institute offers a new policy blueprint for change, highlighting a few of the most critical issues in need of reform — such as bringing inflation under control and stopping the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from interfering with industry reorganization that benefits consumers.

In 2022, inflation hit its highest levels in 40 years. Rising prices eat away at every household budget in America and make financial security more difficult for most people while pushing many basic consumer goods out of reach. The Federal Reserve controls monetary policy, which has a big effect on inflation, but regulators there — and at other financial regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — are advancing new policies wholly unrelated to their mission that heap costs on economic activity without clear benefits. It would be a monumental accomplishment if Congress would  ensure that regulators stay focused on their core mission. We cannot turn the economy around while agencies are throwing sand in the gears of innovation and adaptation at every turn.

Another urgent problem is federal environmental permitting rules. They are an absolute morass, halting new infrastructure projects for decades with serial litigation and endless reviews. That means no new gas pipelines, wind farms, or any other sort of sizable energy infrastructure. Whether your goal is reliable, affordable energy or a national transition to renewable energy sources, neither can happen without Congress enacting permitting reform. Congress should fix this problem by codifying Trump administration executive orders and regulations that streamlined the federal permitting process for major projects.

The politics of antitrust are another big problem. People may worry about power wielded by big companies, but it turns out the bureaucratic planners at the FTC are terrible at orchestrating economic activity on behalf of businesses and consumers. In the past year, for example, the FTC tried to block a merger between Illumina, a DNA sequencing platform, and Grail, a company developing an early detection test for multiple types of cancer, based on hypothetical harms to competitors that don’t exist yet. The merger could lead to important, life-saving cancer testing breakthroughs and an administrative law judge overruled the FTC efforts to stop the deal. 

Expanding antitrust regulation would harm consumers and the U.S. economy. What would actually help? Put one agency in charge of antitrust enforcement: the Department of Justice (DOJ). Placing antitrust authority squarely with the DOJ would help reduce opportunities for politically-motivated investigations and ensure fairness for defendants, since the DOJ must convince a federal court on the merits of a case, while the FTC acts as both prosecutor and judge through its internal adjudication process. We’d all be better off in 2023 if the FTC focused on the prevention and prosecution of fraud. Everything else amounts to either unwarranted planning or a political power grab.

Read the full article at The Hill.