Friday, November 27 , 2015, 5:26 pm | Fair 57º

Tom Donohue: Regulators Represent the Fourth Branch of Government

By Tom Donohue |

A powerful, unelected and often unaccountable fourth branch of government is driving much of the policy that impacts the way we run our businesses and lead our lives.

Federal regulators are churning out about 4,000 regulations a year — including a rising number of massive, costly rules. Systemic overregulation breeds uncertainty, drives up costs, stifles hiring and investment, and threatens our competitive edge in a global economy.

A major indicator of overregulation is the rise in “economically significant” rules — those bearing a price tag of $100 million or more. In 2003, the number of economically significant rules was 127. That number has been steadily increasing since 2007. In 2012, a whopping 224 of these major regulations were in the pipeline.

There is also a troubling lack of transparency and public engagement. Federal law requires every president to release his regulatory plans twice a year so that individuals and businesses have a chance to plan for — or object to — regulations before they take effect.

After skipping both the spring and fall deadlines in 2012, the administration quietly published its regulatory agenda just days before the end of the year. And it confirmed what we already suspected: A second term will bring a slew of costly new regulations, covering everything from power plant emissions to health-care standards.

Once the regulations are out in the open, there isn’t always a chance for the public to offer input. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that about 35 percent of major regulations are issued without a public comment period. In most of those cases, the regulators simply decided that there was “good cause” to issue the rule without public input. In too many other instances, public comment periods have been too short to digest lengthy and complex rules, analyze their impact and offer thoughtful responses.

What’s to be done? We need to reform the entire system to restore transparency and accountability and to ensure that the benefits of rules outweigh the costs. In the meantime, we’ll continue to work with the regulators to improve rules when we can and with Congress to reform or repeal bad regulations.

And if it comes to it, we’ll sue. In support of one of its members, the Noel Canning Corporation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce briefed, argued and won a constitutional challenge last week to three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

The Chamber of Commerce will continue to use every tool at its disposal to keep the fourth branch of government at bay — and to protect America’s job creators from the costs and uncertainty of a regulatory regime run amok.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.

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» on 02.06.13 @ 01:26 PM

Well, that was misleading.  Congress passes laws, but they are written in legal language that, by itself, does nothing.  Regulations are written to transform this legalese into meaningful, actionable rules.  Without regulations, we might as well dissolve Congress.

» on 02.06.13 @ 01:29 PM

I thought this was going to be the most transparent govt in our history. Guess not.

This insidious growth of regulations, many of them ineffective and overly intrusive, is a stealth method to grow the tentacles of govt into our private lives. I hope it can be curtailed before it is too late.

» on 02.06.13 @ 02:40 PM

Sure.  Let’s roll back regulations on clean air and water, safe food and drugs, regulations against fraudulent banking practices—what else?

» on 02.06.13 @ 03:16 PM

A straw man argument. No one is suggesting eliminating all regulations. If your going to argue in favor of expanding the powers of govt through its regulatory reach, at least don’t engage in sophistry and childish characterizations.

» on 02.06.13 @ 04:54 PM

Every government action, local, state, or federal, that attempts to “regulate” any
business practice is (almost without exception) brought about by truly egregious
violations of law, or public trust, by the industries being regulated.

With Donohue’s massive anti-regulatory lobbying arm, and his concurrent efforts to dismantle and paralyze the NLRB, you wonder why any ethical business concern would worry about responding to laws, rules, or regs?

That means that federal rules, laws, regulations, that do get through the K-Street blizzard of death-in-subcommittee delays and amendments, are for stuff so basic that it boggles the mind to realize the Chamber is against them.

Industrial carcinogens in drinking water, or air? Cancer meds actually contain
the medicinal ingredient listed on the label? Food sold in stores or restaurants
is safe to consume, and contains what’s on the label or menu? Cars, trucks, planes are safe for the public to use? Credit solicitations do not breach usury laws by deceit? The process for mortgage application and rating are honest, consistent, above-board? Financial and investment houses will not falsely market products to customers that they know are “high risk”, without such warnings? Energy and utility providers don’t gin-up fake refinery “repairs”
to spike gas or electric prices on unwary consumers, for corporate gain?

These are just a tiny fraction of what passed as “business as usual” during the
Age of Bush II, before the entire national economy imploded.

Ethical lapses and avarice on almost inconceivable levels, in so many business

Which of these does Donohue really believe Americans want rolled back? Why?

Where is his members absolute-guarantee that some partial rollback in costs
for proper ethical and legal oversight would be permanently reflected in lower
prices or rates for businesses and consumers?

Nowhere to be seen, at least in this article.

» on 02.06.13 @ 10:56 PM

Publius, the entire premise of your argument is not only misleading but a caricature of the business world that may reinforce your belief system but hardly reflects reality. To say that regulations are only promulgated because of truly egregious violations of the law is a figment of a very active imagination.

Now we all know that well thought-out and carefully designed regulations are necessary but you would have to be beyond naive to think that govt never goes overboard or designs regulations where the costs far outweigh the benefits. There are countless examples of this with respect to various labor law, workplace rules, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, Obamacare, certain environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the list goes on.

Ask any entrepreneur or someone who is attempting to start a business and he/she will tell you about complying with confusing, burdensome, costly and ambiguously written regulations.

The problem is with the unintended consequences that bureaucrats never bother to think about. For instance, your beloved NLRB has been taken over by militant members of the Teamsters, Afl-CIO, and public employee unions. They are attempting to impose a card-check process where unions can circumvent any democratic process to unionize private sector workforces. Their decision to sue Boeing to block them from opening a plant in South Carolina was finally overturned by the Obama administration because even they knew it was way too extreme an action.

The problem is corporations are much more hesitant to hire if they know they are subject to civil lawsuits by greedy lawyers or if any one of a thousand poorly conceived regulations are not complied with. The benefits of hiring an employee is outweighed in many cases by all the costs as well as the extreme hassle of attempting to comply with thousands of pages of densely written and capricious regulations serving no useful purpose other than to keep an army of bureaucrats busy.

It may sound good in childhood fairy tales, but your vision of a selfless, heroic govt protecting us from the big, evil corporate marauders is a good soundbite but rarely reflects reality. The real situation is much more nuanced and complicated than your simplistic, black-and-white view of a world which does not really exist except for in the minds of people in ivory towers that have no real-world experience.

» on 02.07.13 @ 01:46 PM

I’m going to weigh in on the other side this time.  I worked for 18 years as a Regulatory Compliance Engineer.  I’ve worked with regulations and standards from all over the world.  American regulations, found in the Code of Federal Regulations, are the most poorly written I’ve ever seen.  Our federal agencies are so under-staffed, that many (if not most) these regulations are obsolete and in dire need of revision or removal.

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