Cutting through the regulatory thicket

Regulatory accumulation—the layering of new rules atop old rules year after year, decade after decade—is smothering economic innovation and entrepreneurship in America. Regulations, once enacted, linger on the books forever, achieving the political equivalent of immortality, often becoming outdated, irrelevant, and burdensome. But the solution isn’t just fewer regulations; it’s smarter regulations.

Here’s the basic dilemma: Plenty of agencies in Washington churn out new regulations, but not a single agency is dedicated to rescinding or improving old ones.  We have come together across party lines to propose a novel solution: a Regulatory Improvement Commission (RIC) charged with eliminating, modifying, or updating regulations that have outlived their usefulness. As testament to the rare bipartisan appeal of this idea, we have gained the support of 20 Members of Congress evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. And the Senate version of this proposal was introduced last year by Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

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Normally, the regulatory debate in Washington divides lawmakers along predictable lines. But if we really care about spurring job growth, we need to get past this partisan divide. The argument should not be about whether we need more regulations or fewer; it should be about modernizing and streamlining the system we have. We believe pragmatists in both parties can find common ground by focusing on regulatory overload, or the natural buildup of rules over time.

According to the Progressive Policy Institute, there were 169,301 pages in the Federal Code of Regulations in 2011, an increase of almost 4,000 pages from just a year earlier. Expecting businesses, large or small, to comply with such a bloated body of rules detracts from their core function of producing better goods and services while creating jobs.

Our bill sets up an independent body to identify rules that are outdated, duplicative, or in conflict with each other. The RIC would then send Congress a list of rules targeted for elimination or modification for an up-or-down vote. The President would then need to sign any changes Congress passed for them to take effect.

As an independent, bipartisan commission under Congressional authority, the RIC would ensure there is no hidden regulatory agenda and guarantee the flexibility to review regulations outside the agencies that birthed them. Consisting of nine members appointed by the president and Congress, the commission, after a formal regulatory review, would submit a list of regulatory changes to Congress for a clean, up-or-down vote. This approach would build political trust and lay the groundwork for further rounds of regulatory review and revision.

The RIC would encourage businesses, civic groups, and the general public to be active participants in the regulatory improvement process. Any American would be able to suggest which regulations the RIC considers during an open comment period, and the review process used by the commission would be public. Such engagement and transparency would promote impartiality and foster public trust in the RIC.

To avoid creating a new government bureaucracy, the RIC would be temporary and automatically expire after submitting its report. Congress would have to re-authorize it to repeat this process. Continued re-authorization would allow the RIC to inspire confidence gradually across the political spectrum and would reduce political gaming or perceived bias in any of the commission’s recommendations.

By coalescing Democrats, Republicans, and Independents around the idea of periodic regulatory improvement, the RIC would help rebuild trust in our democracy. Congressional support for the commission would demonstrate this body’s determination to transcend strident partisanship and reverse government dysfunction.

Most important of all, though, the RIC would lift the burden of cumulative regulation from the backs of U.S. workers, businesses, and taxpayers. It would reduce compliance costs and—most crucially—the opportunity costs that accrue when entrepreneurs and business managers spend their energies on complying with unnecessary rules rather than creating value.

The RIC would align U.S. regulatory policy with our country’s overriding need to restore economic vitality by increasing competitiveness and expanding opportunity.  Many pundits have written lately about America’s purported decline. The best way to belie such claims is to improve the regulatory environment for productive investment, innovation, and robust economic growth.

Murphy has represented Florida’s 18th Congressional District since 2013 and is a member of the New Democrat Coalition. He sits on the Financial Services and the Small Business committees. Mulvaney has represented South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District since 2011. He also sits on the Financial Services and the Small Business committees. Both members recently received the U.S. Chamber’ of Commerce's “Spirit of Enterprise” award for their support of pro-growth policies.