WASHINGTON, D.C. – With President Barack Obama’s days in the White House numbered, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley today pleaded with President-elect Donald Trump to “roll back the mess of harmful regulations and executive power grabs of the last eight years”.
On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump and Governor Mike Pence will be sworn in as the 45th President and Vice President of the United States. Mr. Trump has said he plans to immediately roll back or cancel many – if not all – actions done by President Obama.
Senator Grassley apparently wants to make sure that Mr. Trump does not forget his promises, and read a prepared statement Friday morning on the Senate floor:
For the last eight years, we’ve seen President Obama’s administration take action after action and do it without regard for concerns expressed by the American people or their elected representatives in Congress. That may amount to a great deal of unconstitutional or at least contrary-to-statute executive overreach.
The Obama administration used executive fiat to push sweeping regulations with little thought about the damage to American jobs. It has repeatedly stretched its authority beyond limits set by Congress. It has twisted the law and even the Constitution itself to justify this executive overreach. And despite early promises of transparency, it has kept the American people and Congress in the dark about many of its most significant decisions.
Americans are right to be frustrated with what they see as more unnecessary burdens and unchecked abuses being handed down by an out-of-touch bureaucracy. And in November, they made their voices heard.
President-elect Trump has said that he intends to roll back the mess of harmful regulations and executive power grabs of the last eight years. He is certainly going to have his hands full, but there’s plenty he can do to begin the process on January 20th.
President Obama’s tenure has brought about an unprecedented expansion of the regulatory state. By some estimates, bureaucratic red tape now places a $2 trillion burden on our nation’s economy. I don’t doubt that there is some good intention behind just about every new rule. But, the notion that so-called experts in Washington, D.C., need to regulate every aspect of our lives doesn’t make much sense to many of the Iowans I talk to. They are hoping that a President Trump will bring common sense to Washington, D.C.
Take, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States Rule. It’s often referred to by the acronym WOTUS. This rule seeks to expand what the government can regulate under the Clean Water Act. Congress intentionally limited EPA’s reach under the law to navigable waterways. But the WOTUS rule would subject 97 percent of the land in Iowa to EPA’s bureaucratic burdens. Ninety-seven percent of the land to be regulated by E.P.A. Bureaucracy is just an impossible situation.
Think about that. Every homeowner, contractor or farmer would need to seek a federal permit for projects requiring the simple task of moving dirt, even if it is nowhere near an actual body of water. That means more paperwork, more time wasted and more money spent on federal permits for activities that Congress never intended the federal government to regulate.
A bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress has voiced its disapproval of the WOTUS rule and a federal appeals court has placed a nationwide stay on its implementation. Yet, I continue to hear concerns that, regardless of the Supreme Court case, some in the EPA are moving forward with the rule’s implementation, causing unnecessary fear and confusion among farmers and landowners.
On day one, President Trump should direct his administration to stop defending the WOTUS rule in the federal courts where it’s now held up. He should also direct his EPA to immediately stop implementing or enforcing the rule while the agency begins the rulemaking process to take if off the books once and for all.
It’s not just official regulations that have sparked concern over the last eight years. The Obama administration has also used executive actions, agency guidance documents and legal interpretations to push its agenda, leaving Congress and the American people in the dark. Often, this has had disturbing results.
In 2014, the Obama administration acted unilaterally to release five senior-level Taliban commanders who were being held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
Despite requirements in the law, the Administration never notified Congress prior to this prisoner transfer. The law requires the administration to provide Congress with:
• a detailed statement of the basis for the release,
• an explanation for why it is in our national security interests, and
• a plan to prevent the prisoners from returning to the battlefield.
Instead, Congress heard only crickets.
The administration provided no notice to Congress. No legal justification for the release. And no plan to prevent these Taliban commanders from re-entering a fight that has already spilled so much blood of America’s sons and daughters.
One reporter said that the Taliban has been more transparent about this exchange than the Obama administration. And even the non-partisan Government Accountability Office later concluded that the administration acted illegally. Well, it’s pretty clear, the law says you’ve got to give Congress 30 days’ notice. They didn’t give any notice.
There were – and still are – serious questions about whether releasing these detainees from Guantanamo was a good idea. So I asked the administration to disclose the legal advice the Department of Justice apparently provided that justified its failure to notify Congress in a timely way – in other words, a justification for ignoring the law. But it refused to do so.
The public deserves a full and transparent accounting of why the administration believed it could disregard the law. On day one, President Trump should order the Justice Department to produce any legal advice it concocted to excuse the Obama administration from its obligation to notify Congress of this decision 30 days before the release, because that’s what the law says.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only legal opinion that the Obama administration has used to avoid scrutiny of its actions. The Justice Department also brewed up a ludicrous legal opinion to block government watchdogs from accessing federal records needed in the course of their oversight.
And if this year has taught us anything, it’s that government needs more oversight, not less.
It’s unbelievable that a handful of unelected bureaucrats would try to defy the will of this Congress and the people it represents by ignoring the law. Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped there.
The Obama administration practically treats a Congressional subpoena as if it were a Freedom of Information Act request—rather than a constitutionally mandated inquiry from a co-equal branch of government. This very issue is being debated in the courts.
But it’s not just Congress that can’t get information. The press and private citizens have had their Freedom of Information Act requests regularly met with long delays if they get a response at all. You know it’s bad when the New York Times calls this White House the most secretive in more than two decades.
President Trump should take steps to reverse this trend of more secrecy in government, because more transparency in government will bring more accountability. On day one, he should direct his agency heads to cooperate with Congressional inquiries, inspector general investigations and FOIA requests. And he should empower government whistleblowers.
Whistleblowers expose facts about wrongdoing and incompetence inside the vast federal bureaucracy, often at the risk of their own careers, reputations and even health. Without whistleblowers, Americans would be none the wiser that:
• the Justice Department walked guns that put law enforcement agents in jeopardy. That’s the Fast and Furious investigation that I conducted,
• the EB-5 investor visa program is riddled with fraud, or
• agencies spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars every year to pay employees under investigation for misconduct to sit at home on paid leave.
Information provided by whistleblowers under the Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower program has brought in more than $584 million in financial sanctions. The Internal Revenue Service has collected more than $3 billion in tax revenue since 2007 thanks to whistleblowers under a piece of legislation I got passed. Since I pushed to empower and protect whistleblowers under the False Claims Act in 1986, the federal government has recovered more than $48 billion in taxpayer money lost to fraud. Now that is a good deal.
But these brave employees often face retaliation from within their own ranks. If President Trump is serious about fixing the government bureaucracy, he should empower these patriotic citizens to help us identify fraud, abuse and misconduct so we can get this government working again for all Americans.
As I have done for each president since taking office, I call on President Trump to hold a Rose Garden ceremony honoring whistleblowers. That will set the tone from the top that the new Commander in Chief has the backs of these soldiers for good government that we call whistleblowers.
Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list. The common thread in all this is that the Obama administration frequently failed to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, as is required by our Constitution. And when that doesn’t happen and Congress lets a president get away with it, then we aren’t upholding our oath to the Constitution, which says basically that Congress passes the law. They ought to be a check on the executive branch to see that the laws are faithfully executed. So, a person coming to town to “drain the swamp,” a person by the name of Trump, should prioritize these failures and begin to restore the executive branch to its proper place in government consistent with the checks and balances outlined in our Constitution.
These actions will help him to make good on his pledge to fix the federal bureaucracy do what he said last night on television in Des Moines, Iowa: Put Americans first.