by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Underemployment is up. Wage growth is down. Job openings are up. Hiring is down. Student debt is up. Job optimism is down. Consumer debt is up. The personal savings rate is down. Federal regulations are up. Consumer confidence is down.
What’s up with the topsy-turvy uncertainty?
According to a key driver of U.S. economic growth, small businesses rank taxes and red tape highest among their list of concerns. Plus, big government bailouts and entitlement spending have contributed to a soaring national debt. As the economy sputters back to life and the Fed adjusts U.S. monetary policy, homeowners, car buyers and job creators will compete with Uncle Sam’s borrowing binge for affordable credit.
America’s founders intended the levers of government to be limited, rooted in the rule of law, not overruling the republic of free people. Big government restricts individual freedoms, redistributes wealth and undermines personal responsibility.
Consider the innovators and inventors whose entrepreneurial genius has helped the U.S. flourish into the largest economy in the world. America’s resilience thrives due to a system of individual enterprise, free markets, limited government and property rights. The promise of prosperity serves as the catalyst for start-ups to take risks and merit the rewards of their hard work and sacrifice.
21st century policymakers need to protect these pillars of opportunity, including fidelity to the rule of law, not a surplus of laws and regulations.
Writing in the Federalist papers, James Madison forecast a fiasco of instability, uncertainty and overreach, warning that “a continual change even of good measures is inconsistent with every rule of prudence and every prospect of success.”
Madison also forecast the dangers of an overactive government that would create advantages for the well-connected at the expense of others, leading to a cronyism culture that poisons the well of opportunity.
“Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences…”
Regulations that are truly necessary for public health and safety and national security are one thing. But what about new rules that are confusing, hard for an agency to justify, and even harder for the American public to understand? One example drawing criticism along those lines is a regulation from the U.S. Forest Service requiring expensive permits and fines for photographing wilderness areas. Is excessive photography a problem? Does federal law require this step? So far, the agency can’t seem to explain the problem in need of a solution.
Too often, unelected regulators are forcing heavy-handed burdens on job creators, creating a costly toll on growth and productivity as employers, manufacturers, suppliers and distributors scramble to comply.
The three agencies issuing the most regulations in 2013 were the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services. Quantity doesn’t translate into quality, especially when the government is blanketing a one-size-fits-all approach to an innovation-driven economy.
The federal government in 2013 added 157.9 million hours of paperwork burdens, accumulating more than 10.2 billion hours for the year according to figures from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The net regulatory new costs in 2013 reached $112 billion. The Federal Register published an eye-glazing 80,462 pages of new federal regulations last year. Mr. Madison must be rolling over in his grave.
Few Americans would argue the federal bureaucracy runs as a well-oiled machine. To the contrary, more people feel that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
The glut of rules, regulations and unfunded mandates force manufacturers, employers and others to jump through hoops to run their own farm or business. Consumers pay through higher prices. And let’s not forget taxpayers, who by IRS estimates will face 7.5 million hours of paper work this year to comply with the individual insurance mandate, as an example.
Washington, from bureaucrats to lawmakers, needs to better appreciate the costs and consequences of the tens of thousands of federal rules handed down year after year.
Unchecked growth of federal regulations also messes with our system of checks and balances. The ballot box holds lawmakers accountable to their constituents. When federal regulators hand down a rule affecting ownership and management decisions of a farm or small business, they are not directly accountable to the people. What’s more, start-ups and small businesses don’t have the resources to track or influence regulations as they filter through the bureaucracy.
That’s why I support passage of the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny,” or REINS Act. It would require a direct vote in Congress on major new regulations. It would put a congressional check on regulators and a constituent check on lawmakers.
The engine of America’s prosperity is fueled by innovation, productivity and opportunity. It’s time to check under the hood and flush out the gunk. The American people are revving to get back to work.
Washington needs to:
• provide regulatory relief;
• open up markets with free trade policies;
• reach consensus on pro-growth tax reform, such as simplifying and reducing tax rates for individuals and small businesses, lowering the highest corporate tax rate in the free world and transitioning to a more internationally competitive tax structure; and,
• accelerate domestic energy production (traditional and renewables), including the Keystone XL pipeline.
Following this route to economic freedom would help lift wages and hiring, boost consumer confidence and steer America back on the road to prosperity.