Regulation without representation

The burden placed on Americans to pay for federal regulations in 2014 far exceeded the cost we paid in income taxes. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans paid $1.88 trillion in regulatory compliance and $1.4 trillion in individual federal income taxes. These numbers should concern every one of us. The cost of regulations today is nearly $15,000 per family annually – 29 percent of the average family’s disposable income. Not only are regulatory costs taking money out of the pockets of hard-working families, they are stunting economic growth and crushing the can-do American spirit that founded our nation, settled the West, won two world wars and put a man on the moon.

Even more alarming, the rules and regulations are being made by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats at the highest level of government, often behind closed doors. Last year, this resulted in 3,554 new regulations and 77,687 pages of bureaucratic text in the Federal Register. And all of this was created by individuals who are not elected and have no direct contact with those who are impacted.

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Our founders established three coequal branches of government with checks and balances for each. Recognizing the need for order in our society, they granted congress – whose members are elected by the people – the power to create laws. They never could have imagined today’s rulemaking process, in which unelected people in Washington have the final say in the bulk of rules under which the American people must live their daily lives. The regulators have essentially become a fourth branch of government and de-facto legislative body.  The current system squeezes out the voice of the people in the democratic process. It’s regulation without representation, and it’s wrong.

It’s time to restore the people’s role in the rulemaking process. For this reason, I have introduced a resolution in the Senate to create a Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Reform whose purpose is to review regulations currently on the books and propose a new rules review plan, one that includes the elected representatives of the American people. The Regulation Sensibility Through Oversight Restoration (RESTORE) Resolution takes steps to permanently address overregulation and restore congress’ role in making certain the laws are being carried out as intended. If the American people don’t like the legislation we pass, they can vote us out; unfortunately they do not have this option with the rules being created by the regulators.

RESTORE directs the Joint Select Committee, consisting of 15 members each from the Senate and the House of Representatives, to conduct a systematic review of rules currently on the books. It would hold meaningful hearings on the effects of current rules and look for ways to reduce, eliminate or sunset unnecessary and outdated ones. With more than 1 million rules and regulations currently on the books, it is time to take an orderly approach to reviewing and deciding which rules are still needed.

To address regulations moving forward, RESTORE would direct the committee to review and recommend one of several options giving congress a role in reviewing rules before they are enacted. This is already happening in the state legislatures of 41 states.

Not every rule is bad. Good rules weed out bad actors and keep us safe. But the role of the executive branch is to implement and enforce the laws as congress intended. Unfortunately, the lack of oversight has led to bureaucrats exceeding their authority and overstepping the role of the executive branch. The result is that the rules they implement are hindering our freedoms and stifling the American spirit. When the cost of compliance exceeds any potential for profit, it’s a blow to innovation and entrepreneurship. 

The goal of RESTORE is to restructure the rulemaking process, returning it to the American people so they once again have a say in the rules and regulations that affect them the most. Last year, unelected bureaucrats   implemented 16 rules for every one bill that was signed into law. It is time to end regulation without representation and restore our faith in the people to make the best decisions for their families and businesses. It is not Washington that will continue to make this country great, but rather the collective spirit of individual Americans, who want to work hard to be successful for their families and their communities. But they need the heavy hand of government to be lifted to do so.

Rounds is South Dakota’s junior senator, serving since 2015. He sits on the Armed Services; the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; the Environment and Public Works; and the Veterans’ Affairs committees.