Too Much Regulation? There Oughta be a Law | Madisonville
Posted at 2 p.m. on May 2, 2014
Rep. Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, underlined his solemnity of purpose on Wednesday by noting that congressional hearings too often get titled merely to attract attention. So he called his hearing: “The First Step to Cutting Red Tape: Better Analysis. ” If the number of people in the room was an indication, he succeeded in not attracting attention.
Two Minnesotans were enough to account for a third of the congressional participation, and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen hijacked a good chunk of time to promote the state’s medical device industry, described by some as “Minnesota’s medical alley.” That’s a fine echo of Silicon Valley if you can block out the image of used syringes littering a poorly lit street.
Red Tape is something all political denominations can agree on. The pejorative Red Tape is one cue about how to think about it. Better Analysis is just as uncontroversial, as long as everybody overlooks the reality that Better Analysis is the kind that supports the already established view of one side or another.
This being Congress, of course, the road to reduced Red Tape is paved by … new Red Tape. Mandated by new laws. And executed by a new office of federal employees tasked with regulating the regulators, or at least keeping an eye on them. If you can fight fire with fire, the theory seems to be, you can fight regulation with regulation.
And so the panel discussed requiring a cost-benefit analysis before any regulations can be adopted or forcing retrospective reviews of regulations or creating a federal counterweight to the regulatory instinct of existing agencies. This sounded like a federal employment program for economists and accountants.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat playing the role of gadfly, observed that lots of regulations are designed to prevent a recurrence of some disaster that recently happened and for which economists aren’t going to be able to quantify costs and benefits.
Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, wondered whether Congress could pass a law saying that only Congress could enact new regulations. Wouldn’t THAT be fun? How about the Clearing Our Regulatory Restraints to Unleash Productive Talent Act? One witness poured cold water on the idea by pointing out Congress isn’t particularly well equipped to assess regulatory impact.
Brady thought Congress needs to figure out how to solve the problem of agency bias. In simple terms, this is the tendency at, say, the Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration, to think that regulations of, say, the environment or food and drugs are a way to solve problems. Curing that habit doesn’t look promising.
Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, sensed the futility of such hearings when he wondered how everybody in Washington can agree on the need for less regulation and still never manage to reduce regulation. There needs to be a change in the mindset, he said.
Congress could always pass a law.