Tackling Regulatory Reform

Jeb Bush’s plan to ease the burden and restore separation of powers.

A couple of weeks ago, Jeb Bush unveiled his pro-growth tax reform proposal. Last week, the former Florida governor announced his plan to address the other 800lb gorilla in the room: regulation. Rule by red tape has been a hallmark of Barack Obama’s “pen and phone” presidency, but the problem is far deeper than one administration.

The scale to which the current Monarch of America has choked the economy with regulation — increasing the cost of doing business and stifling wages and capital investment — is not fully appreciated. In a study earlier this year titled, “Red Tape Rising: Six Years of Escalating Regulation Under Obama,” the Heritage Foundation published data that borders on the criminal. In 2014, the U.S. government issued 2,400 new regulations, including 27 major rules, that inflicted economic damage of more than $80 billion each year.

All told, Obama issued 184 new major rules during his first six years, and he has 126 more on his wish list. Regulation is taxation by another name.

This catalogue of chaos — that ranges from tighter energy-efficiency requirements on power plugs for electronics to mandatory calorie counts for every item on every restaurant’s menu — is more than double the number of regulations from George W. Bush’s eight years. And Bush 43 was no regulatory lightweight.

In his bid to show that Bush 45 would be better, the Jeb! campaign posted “Regulatory Reform: The Regulatory Crisis in Washington,” outlining three specific reform goals with corresponding policy solutions.

Reform number one is the proposed elimination of the “Washington-knows-best” approach to commerce and innovation with a few guarantees for growth:

  • A total regulatory freeze “to the extent permissible under existing law”
  • A regulatory budget in year one of zero, meaning the cost of a new regulation must be offset by the elimination or reform of an existing regulation
  • A “regulatory Hippocratic oath” observed by potential future Bush appointees to “do no harm” through regulation, and to “strictly adhere to the plain, ordinary meaning of constitutional and statutory limitations”

Reform two aims to do the impossible: Put accountability of the regulators directly back to the American public, not special interests and lobbyists. Offering examples of the Federal Communications Commission applying 1930s regulation to the Internet and Dodd-Frank financial “reform” making too-big-to-fail banks even-bigger-fatter-ones-to-fail, Bush made these proposals:

  • Congressional oversight of major regulatory reforms that would impose a large cost to an industry or the economy as a whole — such regulations would require an up-or-down vote in the legislative branch
  • Judicial reform through appointees who will apply the strict constitutional limits of a regulator’s authority
  • The end of “sue and settle,” a common practice of frivolous or convoluted lawsuits with the singular goal of a legal lottery settlement
  • Licensing reforms that encourage reciprocation between states with the move toward certification and registration versus constant regulation that empowers the incumbency and special interests

Bush’s third reform proposal is to simply cut red tape to eliminate uncertainty and the maze of compliance for business. Citing America’s aging infrastructure as the prime example of federal mandates shackling the states’ efforts to move forward with infrastructure maintenance and expansion projects, Bush places the Environmental Disruption Agency, sorry, the Environmental Protection Agency squarely on notice:

  • Through streamlining the permit process, Bush would reduce the number of decision-makers, establish clear lines of authority that lead to the White House, if necessary, and mandate the approval or rejection of a permit within two years barring extraordinary circumstances
  • Litigation reform will remove the tool of delay and deny from environmental extremists by limiting lawsuits to parties who are directly impacted or suffer loss and enforcing strict statutes of limitation

Jeb’s plan, like his tax reform proposal, is generally a good one, but pardon us if we don’t trust anyone with his surname to stop government growth, much less actually shrink it. That said, Bush’s fundamental idea here is one we hope other, better candidates will apply: Congress passes the laws, and executive agencies enforce those laws — not make their own. It’s Constitutional Separation of Powers 101.

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