Turning the "Contract With America" into a Contract-Out on Excessive Regulation

Opinion/Editorial by David A. Ridenour, Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research and Director of The Environmental Policy Task Force.

Published January 1995

On November 8, the American people sent a clear message to Washington -- the federal government is too large, too arrogant and too intrusive and must be changed. Nowhere is this change more urgently needed than in the area of regulation.

During President Clinton's two years in office, federal regulations have grown at a pace not seen since the Carter Administration. In 1994, the Federal Register, which publishes all federal regulations, was 64,914 pages in length -- the highest total since Carter's 73,258 in 1980 and third largest in American history. The federal government now employs 126,815 people to administer these regulations and if the President gets his way, that number will grow even further -- to almost 130,000 by 1995.

Federal regulation and bureaucratic red tape costs the economy an estimated $500 billion annually -- slowing growth, reducing our international competitiveness and increasing prices for consumers. That figure doesn't even include the cost associated with complying with local and state regulation. The Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform estimates that the average American had to work until July 10 last year to pay the costs associated with local, state and federal regulations, taxes, mandates and deficit spending.

Perhaps the greatest cost of the current regulatory regime is its sometimes perverse impact on ordinary Americans. Regulatory "horror stories" abound:

Six-year-old Robyn Lerman of Highland park, Illinois was denied a visit by the tooth fairy after her dentist, fearful of running afoul of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations that list teeth as potentially biologically hazardous materials, refused to give her the teeth he had extracted from her.

OSHA fined the plumbing company DeBest Inc. $7,875 after two of its employees in Garden City, Idaho failed to don government-approved hard hats and build a retaining wall before rescuing a worker from suffocation after the ditch he was working in collapsed.

Joseph and Irma Phillips lost all the money from the sale of their house and their entire life savings after the Army Corps of Engineers declared a farm they purchased a wetland and barred construction on it. The Maryland now must depend on the generosity of family for a roof over their heads.

Somewhere along the line we lost sight of the intent of regulations in the first place -- to be our servants not our masters. We all share in the blame: The public demands a pristine environment and life without risks, but without an clear understanding of the trade-offs. Meanwhile, business and industry too often live in the short term, building narrow coalitions designed to fend-off specific regulations rather than investing time and effort in building a broad-based coalition to oppose overly-intrusive regulations of any type.

But there is some evidence that we are learning from our mistakes. In December, the GOP's point-man on regulatory reform, Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) launched Project Relief, a coalition of some 300 business, industry, family and property rights organizations to seek regulatory relief for all Americans. It is perhaps the most broad-based regulatory reform coalition ever assembled with membership ranging from the Christian Coalition to the property rights umbrella organization Alliance for America to business and industry groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business.

It was at the suggestion of Project Relief and through the efforts of Congressman DeLay that the Republican leadership of both Houses of Congress asked President Clinton on December 12 to order a 100-day moratorium on all federal rulemaking, with appropriate exemptions, to allow the new Congress sufficient time to evaluate some 4,300 rulemakings planned by the Administration for the next fiscal year and to craft the regulatory reform promised under the GOP's "Contract with America." He declined.

In response, Congressmen DeLay and David McIntosh (R-IN) introduced the "Regulatory Transition Act of 1995," H.R. 450, which would impose a moratorium retroactive to November 9, 1994. It would not apply to regulations that respond to an imminent threat to health or safety, or those essential to criminal law enforcement. A companion bill, S. 219, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Don Nickles (R-OK).

The Regulatory Transition Act is only the first volley in what will be an on-going effort to put people back into the regulatory equation. As part of the "Contract with America," Republicans committed to such regulatory reforms as a realistic system of cost-benefit analysis, the development of the rational method of risk assessment, and an end to unfunded federal mandates within the first hundred days of the 104th Congress. If these efforts are to be successful, they will need input from the public. That's why Project Relief has established a toll-free line, 1-800-9XS-REGS, where citizens can report their regulatory horror stories and their concerns.

In November, Republicans ran on the "Contract with America," a platform for reducing the size and scope of the federal government -- and won. With the support of the American public, the "Contract with America" can become a contract out on excessive and overzealous regulation.

--The Environmental Policy Task Force is a project of The National Center for Public Policy Research * 20 F Street, NW #700 * Washington, D.C. 20001 * Tel. (202) 507-6398 * (301) 498-1301 * E-mail: [email protected] * Web: http://www.nationalcenter.org. ###

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