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Over the past decade or so, there has been significant growth in the powers delegated to the unelected heads of regulatory agencies, colloquially known as “czars.” At last count, the Obama Administration has amassed 45 of these positions, more than any of his predecessors and all without the accountability of elected office.
The power of these agencies is essentially unchecked by any other branch of government, and they can issue any number of regulations without congressional oversight. Naturally, this presents an enormous threat to the liberty of American citizens. Agencies such as the EPA or the FDA can pass sweeping rules with devastating consequences to business or individuals,and since their leaders are unelected they need not worry about reprisal from voters during the next election cycle.
The democratic process was intended to be one of the strongest checks on government power, with the citizens able to remove bad actors from office serving as a deterrent for those who would abuse their power.
One example of such abuses is the FCC’s increasingly desperate attempts to exert regulatory control over the greatest driver of increased productivity and economic growth of the twentieth century, the Internet. Another is the vastly expanded powers granted to the FDA in 2010 to regulate every aspect of food production,resulting in numerous silly rules whose increased costs far outweigh any potential gain in food safety. A third instance is the FDA preparing to crack down on medical apps for mobile devices in the near future, a move that would limit health care options for doctors and patients alike. From these examples and many more like them, it is clear tha regulatory authority has quickly grown out of control, with unprecedented levels of executive power.
Thankfully, Senator Mike Lee has once again taken the lead in restoring accountability and transparency to Washington with a proposed amendment to the latest incarnation of the Farm Bill. The amendment, known as the Regulations From The Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2013, or REINS for short, would require all proposed rules from major agencies to undergo a congressional review process before becoming law.
Realistically, requiring regulations to be put to a vote would probably not stop very many of them from becoming law. There is a still a great deal of congressional support for giving these agencies a more or less free hand. However, the amendment would require elected politicians to go on record as supporting unpopular regulations for which their constituents could then hold them accountable. This is the way democracy was meant to work, and Senator Lee should be commended for recognizing that fact.
If it passes, Senator Lee’s amendment will be a vital step in restoring political power to those whom the founders intended to have it - the people. As things stand, citizens have virtually no recourse to fight back against and endless barrage of arcane and unreasonable regulations, put in place by agencies directly under the thumb of the executive branch. If there’s anything we can learn from the last couple of weeks, it’s thta this is a uniquely bad arrangement.