The Shadow Lawmakers and the Trillion-Dollar Budget

The House of Representatives recently took valuable time to recognize a staffer who resigned to move on to a job in the private sector from the congressional launching platform.  That is only reasonable, since the members can cash in for full retirement after a minimum of two years and then move on to the world of lobbying.  This behavior unfortunately represents business as usual for a Congress that has abdicated its responsibility to unelected bureaucrats who lurk in the shadows, creating regulations to the tune of $1.88 trillion annually.

The House did find time to debate H.R. 380, which would require congressional members to consider bill H.R. 427, which was introduced January 21, 2015.  H.R. 427 would amend Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, and would prohibit any rule or regulation created by the executive branch, which means all the government agencies, without a joint resolution of approval by Congress enacting the rule or regulation into law.  These laws are necessary because overzealous and politically indebted bureaucrats are approving federal agency regulations being implemented on the public, some of which are considered "major rules."  For the uninformed, which is likely anyone who has ever tried to negotiate the morass of government red tape, the a "major rule," as defined by the U.S. Government Accountability Office under the Congressional Review Act, is as follows:

... one that has resulted in or is likely to result in (1) an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more; (2) a major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, federal, state, or local government agencies, or geographic regions; or (3) significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, or innovation, or on the ability of United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic and export markets. 5 U.S.C. § 804(2)

One might think this legislation unnecessary.  After all, Americans do elect their representatives and senators to represent their interests by at least reading, understanding, and approving law that may have adverse consequences to the American public.  But currently, regulations, which effectively carry the weight of law, are meted out by individual agency directors and their subordinates, who are sometimes contractors who have no punitive accountability to the agency.  Agency heads are not elected, but appointed, yet they have the freedom to enact these pseudo-laws or regulations with impunity, without allowing any notice to or comment from the public.

The REINS Act was crafted to curb overregulation and excessive freelancing by the federal bureaucrats who have the power to make rules and to enforce the laws that Congress passes.  As an illustration of the insidiousness of bureaucrat behavior, in 2014, 224 laws were enacted by congressional members during the calendar year, whereas 3,554 rules were issued by agencies and the bureaucrats within.  The Obama administration issued 157 regulations in the first five years of his administration costing $73 billion annually.

An amendment to the bills was introduced on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 by Representative David Young (R-IA), which would take the law a little farther.  It would require that the data supporting the justification for any regulation, the cost of the regulation, and the consequences of the regulation to Americans be provided to the American public free of charge on a congressional website.  Mr. Young offered the amendment as a bipartisan effort to support the transparency President Obama demanded of government when he was elected.  It would also help weed out the redundant, illegally implemented, and exorbitantly expensive regulations in the tens of thousands already in place, choking American business.

Both H.R. 380 and 427 would appear to be a representative's dream.  The duo would support the president's mandate for transparency, making the Democrats happy, and it would remove enormous wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, which should make both Democrats and Republicans happy.

Yet, as it turns out, no one is happy.  

During the House Debate on Congressional Approval of Federal Regulations, Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Henry "Hank" Johnson (D-GA) objected on the basis that the legislation may expose government employees' personal information.  If they were referring to genuine privacy information such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and account information, home addresses, security clearances, and so on, that ship has already sailed.  Whatever was there to be harvested is already gone, thanks to the former director of the Office of Personnel Management, Katherine Archuleta, so that argument is really moot.  Mr. Johnson, in reading from the prepared notes left on the lectern for him by Ms. Edwards, objected that the legislation would require agencies to publish in the Federal Register a list of information on which a rule is based, thereby further exposing to the public the details of the regulations and rules and who authored them.  He continued to suggest that Republicans had a nefarious motive in the legislation, which might require agencies to make public their assertions that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was in fact in compliance with the law and accomplishing what Mr. Johnson and Ms. Edwards had previously attested to before Congress.

Ms. Edwards used an EPA regulation that was in the process of being implemented as an illustration, asserting that it would cost the agency $250 million if the EPA had to make public the details of the regulation.  It might be a good idea to get the Congressional Budget Office to provide a detailed breakdown of the $250 million, if it indeed costs that much to take existing data that is likely already in electronic format and publish it on a website.

It almost sounds as though they have reversed the logic behind the infamous "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it" articulated by former House speaker Nancy Pelosi when she was driving the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) through Congress.  Ms. Edwards and Mr. Johnson appear to have inverted the Pelosi logic to justify not passing the legislation because it would cost too much to see it.  

It's unclear whether Ms. Edwards or Mr. Johnson understood the significance of the law and its amendment or whether there was some other reason they objected to the American public being able to see what they are doing.  What is crystal-clear in the rhetoric of Democrats in the Congress is that they do in fact know that rules and regulations that carry the full weight of law are being implemented without allowing any notice or comment from the public, and yet they vigorously protest the American public knowing where their money is going.

And that is the fundamental problem: members of Congress have somehow lost sight of, or they never knew, or in their arrogance they just do not care that the money being spent in Washington is earned by American citizens.  Government is not a business, contrary to what the agency heads pretend.  They have renamed positions in agencies, such as chief operating officer, chief financial officer, president of IT, vice president of...well, you get the idea.  But government is not a business and should not be treated as a business by people untrained and unqualified to run a business.  Government is service to the people; the people decide what they want done, provide funding, and trust their representatives to carry out their instructions.

As long as there is an unelected shadow government making decisions and implementing rules and regulations with impunity, and the politicians are impotent to control those in the shadows, nothing will change.