NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tyranny of the Unelected

October 14, 2010

Congress passed and the president signed 125 bills into law in 2009.  Your tireless federal regulatory agencies were even busier:  They issued 3,503 rules and regulations, says Wayne Crews, a vice president at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

  • Regulations considered in recent years have included energy-efficiency standards for clothes washers and pool heaters, SUV emission rules and the Consumer Product Safety Commission's designs to regulate escalators as a "consumer product."
  • The year's Federal Register -- the daily depository of federal regulations -- already tops 61,000 pages.
  • According to research conducted for the Small Business Administration by economists Nicole V. and W. Mark Crain, annual off-budget regulatory costs exceed $1.7 trillion, an amount equivalent to more than half the level of the federal budget itself and on a par with the stratospheric annual deficit.

In response to this fire hose of regulation, Rep. Geoff Davis, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, unveiled the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny) to require congressional approval of major agency rules and regulations before they are binding.  Major rules are the ones costing $100 million annually.

Regulations aren't beneficial merely because proponents say so.  Often no one has a clue whether benefits exceed costs:

  • In the Office of Management and Budget's annual reports to Congress on regulatory costs and benefits, less than 1 percent of agency final rule documents get reviewed.
  • Agencies will avoid putting price tags on rules they know REINS could block, so particularly controversial rules should be subject to affirmation as well, not just those explicitly designated as exceeding the $100 million threshold.

By tolerating the delegation of sweeping lawmaking power to unelected agencies, Congress has severed the power to establish regulatory programs from the responsibility for the results of those programs.

Source: Wayne Crews, "Tyranny of the Unelected," Washington Times, October 11, 2010.

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