The Fourth Branch of Government, Part I

Dec 2, 2013

To restore economic growth, create jobs, and lift the veil of uncertainty hanging over every business and investor, we must curb an unprecedented onslaught of regulations and reform the regulatory system itself.

American businesses and consumers are being buried under an avalanche of rules from a system that is increasingly opaque and unaccountable. Since 1976, we’ve added 176,000 regulations to the books. Federal agencies are churning out another 4,000 every year. And the number of “major” regulations—those with a $100 million impact or greater—has gone up 80% in ten years, from 124 in 2003 to 224 last year. The size, scope, cost, and complexity of regulations are reaching immense proportions.

Take Obamacare, for example—a convoluted, sprawling piece of legislation that has spawned a flood of regulations. As of September, the administration had already published 109 final rules governing the implementation of the law. Together, these regulations total more than 10,000 pages, which is eight times longer than the Bible.

The price tag for all of the regulations already on the books—and not including the huge rules on the drawing board or in the pipeline—amount to $1.8 trillion, or roughly equal to the entire GDP of Canada. That’s $15,000 a year per household, making it the second largest item in the typical family budget.

Then there’s the cost in personal and economic freedom. Today we have regulations to decide exactly what kind of health coverage you must have … what kind of mortgage you can get … even what kind of light bulb you must use. And if a court hadn’t intervened, there would be regulations telling you what size soda you can drink in New York City!

We’re not only concerned with the number of rules, and the costs they create, but the process by which they are made. Stakeholders and average citizens are being shut out. Secret deals are being cut behind closed doors. Data is being cherry-picked. Congress is ceding too much authority to the agencies, who abuse that freedom by twisting congressional intent to serve their own ideological agendas.

As school children, we were taught about the three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial. But now we have a fourth branch, and you won’t find it in the Constitution: a regulatory branch that is potentially more powerful than the other three combined.

We’re not arguing that we should abolish all regulations or dismantle the rulemaking process. But, too many needless and expensive regulations are clearly costing jobs and growth. How we can reform the system that produces them will be the topic of next week’s column.

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