Very shortly after taking office on Saturday, President Bush rushed to stop the promulgation of numerous new regulations ordered by President Clinton. The president ordered, quite literally, that the Federal Register stop the presses so that some of the regulations could be reviewed. It is still unknown what exactly Bush means by review, but any reprieve from the 30,000 pages of new regulations ordered by lame-duck Clinton would be welcome. The halt in the regulatory binge comes just in time for businesses, large and small, which are trying to cope with the massive numbers of new regulations being thrust upon Americans.
The new regulations control everything from public lands and energy policy to workplace safety regulations. The most insidious of the new rules is the new ergonomic regulations promulgated by OSHA late last year. The U.S. chamber of commerce estimates that compliance with the new regulations could cost American businesses as much as 1 trillion dollars. The unions and labor interest groups couldn’t be happier with the crippling rules, but, of course, the union leader never bother to inform the rank and file that even the federal government admits that “80% to 100% of the costs of employee benefits is borne by workers through reduced wages.” The overall effects of lost wages due to additional regulations are enormous. Meanwhile, in Alaska, thousands of miles from the posh Washington offices, timber industry representatives, environmentalists, tourist agents and others have been working for 10 years on a multimillion dollar program to manage the Tongass National Forest. Even though local interests have been working together for years to manage the area, Clinton’s bureaucrats sought to declare the area permanently off limits to development rendering the area useless to everyone except the few yuppie tourists who can afford to vacation there.
The new regulations issued in the final days of the Clinton Administration are just a fraction of the over 100,000 pages of regulation issued in 2000. Not surprisingly, the volume of regulations surpasses those of any previous president, and the monetary burdens on small businessmen and entrepreneurs are greater than ever before.
What is most startling about all of this is that none of these laws are approved by the legislative branch of the United States government. As has become increasingly well known, the executive order was Clinton’s favorite way of overcoming the legislative process and governing by fiat. Never were these regulations subjected to inspection by representatives of the various states and congressional districts. They were simply declared to be law by one man with one stroke of the pen. Considering the very tangible costs that such laws impose upon Americans, it is astounding that such behavior by government is tolerated. Why don’t members of Congress act to protect their constituents? They don’t act because they’re waiting for a member of their own party to enter the white House so he can abuse the executive power of the president the same way Clinton had. Neither Republicans or Democrats are willing to clip the wings of presidential fiat power because they’re all gambling that they’ll be able to get one of their own in the august position the next time an election rolls around. The big political players all hold to a belief that “to the victors go the spoils” and that political victory should be rewarded with unilateral legal power. The real losers in this game, though are the American taxpayer and entrepreneur who must devote hours of their time to complying with rapidly changing regulations which are rarely subject to any kind of public input save the so-called “comment period” which hardly serves as an adequate substitute for the legitimate legislative process of compromise and amendment.
To any child who has been taught about “how a bill becomes law” the current system of regulatory fiat would seem repugnant and certainly contrary to what they have been taught about ideals of American government. Why is it that a child can see the insidiousness of making law sans debate and compromise while grown-ups sit back and dismiss it is a presidential prerogative? The answer probably lies in the fact that the youngsters aren’t waiting in the wings to push through their own regulatory agenda as soon as they manage to wrest control of the Oval Office. Wanting to keep the options open for their man George, it is unlikely that the Republicans will act to put forward any kind of regulatory reform to tie the hands of the president. They’ll just hope against hope that the White House stays in conservative hands forever, and refuse to discuss the inevitable and costly results of their own reticence.
January 24, 2001
Ryan McMaken lives in Denver, Colorado. He edits the Western Mercury.