- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

President Obama last night assumed the guise of a reformer intent on reining in the federal bureaucracy. After presiding over a $3.4 trillion increase in the national debt and after saddling consumers and business with thousands of new rules and regulations, it remains to be seen whether he can deliver on this promise. Fortunately, Congress is not going to wait to find out.

Rep. Geoff Davis, Kentucky Republican, wants Congress to approve any new regulation that would have an economic impact greater than $100 million or would significantly increase consumer prices. His legislation, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, would bring badly needed accountability to the hundreds of federal agencies that generate rules and red tape carrying the full force of law.

In a Jan. 18 executive order, Mr. Obama directed these agencies to “review” the cost of existing regulations and ensure they “impose the least burden on society.” The order adds that the review process needs to look beyond mere dollars and cents to calculate values such as “equity, human dignity, fairness and distributive impacts.” That means agencies ought not worry about imposing higher costs or even expanding regulatory burdens so long as a bureaucrat deems that doing so is “more effective” at advancing these nebulous goals tailored to suit a big-government agenda.

At a hearing Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, made the case for true reform. He cited a George Washington University estimate that the annual price tag for federal regulations is $1.75 trillion, or almost $16,000 per household. “The Obama administration has under consideration at least 183 regulations that each would impose costs of $100 million or more,” said Mr. Smith. “These regulations amount to stiff but unseen taxes on every American.”

The heads of regulatory agencies and commissions don’t need to stand for election and cannot be recalled by the public. With unassailable job security, unaccountable agency functionaries have no qualms about imposing unseen taxes - often with the tacit support of lawmakers. As former Rep. David McIntosh put it, “When legislators delegate broad authority to a faceless bureaucracy, they can take credit for someone else’s success and shift responsibility for someone else’s failure.” The Indiana Republican endorsed the alternative approach offered by Mr. Davis because it would give the public the ability to influence the direction of regulatory policy on Election Day.

Congress should not be allowed to punt the tough decisions to the backrooms of bureaucracy. The proposal from Mr. Davis gives the voting public the authority it needs to keep all branches of their government from running wild.

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