- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2001

"Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool," said Paul Begala, aide to former President Bill Clinton, referring to making law through executive order.

During his first 7 years in office, Mr. Clinton issued more than 450 executive orders about one a week. But that was nothing compared to the pace he set as his term came to a close.

There's just one problem: The United States was designed as a Democratic Republic, with the power to write laws explicitly and solely delegated to the legislature. So why did Mr. Clinton ignore this constitutional tradition and instead resort to "rule be decree?" Because he was unable to convince a majority of the people's elected representatives that his policies were in the public interest.

To be fair, Mr. Clinton was by no means the first president to issue executive orders. But for a number of reasons, his merit careful review. First, internal memos and the timing of several of his orders indicate they were politically motivated rather than intended to serve a legitimate public need. Second, most had previously been sent to Congress as proposed legislation, and had been rejected.

Finally, executive orders and the regulations they spawn are costly. Indeed, the private sector spends approximately $700 billion each year to comply with regulations. This amounts to a cost of more than $6,000 per household. The Clinton administration contributed more than its share to this total, adding more than 560,000 pages of rules to the Federal Register (approximately 27 percent more than the Reagan administration and more than double the Nixon administration).

President Bush, recognizing the problematic nature of the previous administration's executive orders, issued an order to halt publication of new rules in the Federal Register and put a 60-day stay on regulations in the Register that have not yet taken effect. This temporarily blocks the implementation of Clinton's midnight rulemaking efforts giving Mr. Bush and Congress time to review and, if necessary, overturn the orders before they become law.

This is a good start, but the reality is that Mr. Bush cannot spend a significant portion of his time reviewing and rescinding faulty orders issued by the previous administration.

With this in mind, here are a few of Mr. Clinton's most egregious orders. First, re-examine executive orders and regulations that canceled pre-existing oil and gas leases on public lands. This policy was a sop to the environmental fringe. These leases were not environmentally sensitive, and canceling them will cost taxpayers millions of dollars to compensate the companies holding the leases. In addition, the policy seems particularly foolish at a time when energy prices are skyrocketing and energy shortages are looming.

Second, re-examine the 4 million acres of national monument declarations more land in the continental U.S. than any other president and his closure of nearly 100 million acres of national forests to logging and road-building. Why? For one, there is evidence that far from being based on sound policy, these moves were politically motivated. In an internal memo to Vice President Al Gore, major environmental groups promised to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket and spend $500,000 to re-elect the administration in 1996 if the designation was made. The results of these policies have been disastrous for our forests with the Forest Service declaring that 60 percent of national forest land faces an abnormal fire hazard. As a result, in 2000 the United States experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons of the century more than 68,000 wildfires in 13 Western states and Florida burned more than 5 million acres.

Third, reinstate President Reagan's executive orders concerning property rights and federalism. These rules, rescinded by Mr. Clinton, required federal agencies to ensure that their actions did not infringe on constitutionally protected private property rights and that they respected the constitutionally established limits to federal power vis-a-vis the states.

Mr. Bush should sign legislation developed in the last Congress, which would limit the size of the national monuments the president could designate without Congress' approval. These laws would limit the ability of future presidents to dictate law from the Oval Office.

While wishing President Bush success in implementing his policy agenda, one can hope his successes come about through the constitutionally designed process of "Congress passes laws, the president enforces them."

Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware, is the policy chairman at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware, is the policy chairman at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

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