GOP right wing is serious about disabling government

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I wish that description were hyperbole, but it is not; indeed, it would be difficult to exaggerate the sweep and destructiveness of the House bill. The measure (H.R. 4078) would impose a moratorium on the issuance of any and all major new regulations for the foreseeable future except in the case of narrowly defined emergencies (and even those emergency designations could be challenged in court). The moratorium would remain in place until unemployment averaged 6 percent or less for an entire quarter – a level that, sadly, is not likely to be achieved for some time, having been exceeded for the past 15 quarters.


The bill prohibits not just the issuance of new standards and safeguards but any action that “is expected to lead to” their being proposed.  The legislation might as well just directly order the agencies that were created to protect the public to close up shop (except for enforcement actions) for the next few years. Unhappy that it has been unable to provoke a government shutdown over spending battles or a default on the nation’s debt, the right wing has now come up with a more subtle way to make sure the government can’t do its job. And what should be seen as a strikingly outlandish proposal is instead being treated by the House as a marquee bill.

What would be so bad about having no new regulations for several years? Well, nothing if everything else about the world was going to stand still for that period, but that’s not likely to be the case. Might we want to try some new ways to stimulate the housing market? No new rules to run a program would be permitted. Might we want to respond to recent revelations about the way banks have misreported and manipulated interest rates? No chance. How about protecting consumers from new attempts by banks to impose exorbitant fees? No dice.

It would be the same story for rules to improve health and safety or to protect the environment. Want those new mileage standards that even the auto industry is supporting? They’d be blocked for years, hurting consumers and the economy. How about some rules for new methods of extracting natural gas? No can do, even if industry wanted them to provide certainty and perhaps limit liability. How about applying the lessons learned from the oil disaster in the Gulf? That would just have to wait.

It’s easy to come up with a list of problems that the public would rightly expect government to address over the next few years that would be blocked by this bill.  In many cases, industry would also want some order imposed rather than being in limbo. And what if a President Romney wanted to impose new limitations on what government aid could be used for? That would be blocked, too. What it’s hard to do is come up with a plausible rationale for such a mindlessly broad moratorium.

The bill is titled the “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act” -- a name that borders on self-parody. There is no indication that this bill would aid job growth. Indeed by blocking rules needed to make the economy run more smoothly – like ones to protect another financial meltdown – the bill could harm our economic prospects for years to come.

But this bill is not drafted to deal with any practical concern anyway; it’s designed to codify an ideological fantasy. Bills like this make it harder, not easier to get down to the real work of improving the regulatory system.

The media and the Washington establishment have largely been ignoring the House effort because it seems so far-fetched. But we ignore these efforts at our peril. The state of the regulatory system and the role of government are important issues that deserve serious debate. Each time a bill like this passes, it shifts the debate to the right, makes it harder to work out sensible compromises, and puts members on the record in ways that restrict future action.

The right wing does not have a record of doing things simply to waste time; it is deadly in earnest. Its opponents would be wise to take it seriously.  The Republican leadership is putting this bill forward as a genuine proposal, and that ought to spark sharp debate – as well as opposition that spans partisan lines.  Those who understand the consequences of this bill, including business leaders, ought to feel obligated to speak out.

Atlas may shrug, but mere mortals should take note.  The right wing is serious about disabling the government.

Boehlert was a Republican Congressman from upstate New York from 1983–2006. He chaired the House Committee on Science from 2001-2006.

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