With just a week left before the new president takes office, our government is engaged in a frenzy of lawmaking.
No, Congress has not convened to consider legislation, and no, your elected representatives will not decide whether these new federal rules go into effect. You will not hear about the majority of the new laws, and you certainly won’t have an opportunity to debate them.
How could this happen in America? Simple: President Clinton, in a raw exercise of unchecked power, has been issuing an unprecedented barrage of regulations and executive orders. Call them “midnight regulations,” controls pushed through at the last minute before Clinton is forced to relinquish power.
Here are just a few examples:
Last week, Clinton issued an executive order banning new logging contracts and road-building on 60 million acres of federal land, removing this land from any kind of human use or development. The loggers who work on these lands had no warning, no chance to debate the question, and no opportunity to appeal the decree that deprived them of their livelihoods.
While he was putting skids under the loggers, Clinton was greasing the wheels for another group: his staff. With a stroke of his pen, he lifted an order that barred former administration employees from working for lobbyists for five years. Consider it a golden parachute for Clinton’s aides, who can now accept cushy lobbying jobs.
As for the regulatory agencies, the Energy Department — which holds a surprising power to invade our laundry rooms — just crammed through a new regulation requiring washing machines to meet stringent new energy efficiency requirements, at a cost of up to $240 per machine.
These are just the few new laws that have received attention in the press. There are hundreds, probably thousands, more.
Technically, these regulations and executive decrees are not “laws” — but they might as well be. Over the past century, Congress has granted so much power to the regulatory agencies that the executive branch, not Congress, now writes the majority of new federal rules, averaging about 70,000 pages of regulations per year. But in a last minute orgy, Clinton’s administration is scheduled to issue about 29,000 pages of new regulations made just in the last three months of his term.
This flood of new laws is so large and complex that no one can know all it contains. How can anyone understand, let alone debate, 10,000 regulations in 10 weeks? Since no one — not the public, not the press, not Congress, not even President Clinton himself — can actually examine all of the regulations, the result is that anything goes. The bureaucrats who write these rules can dispose of our lives and property however they wish.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to reverse this unprincipled assault on our freedom. President Bush, in his first day in office, should countermand all executive orders and suspend all federal regulations issued since the election. He should not do it because he dislikes any one particular regulation — though there are plenty that are worth opposing. He should do it on the principle that laws should not be made in this way. He should do it because the public has a right to make sure that new laws are discussed, debated, and voted on by our chosen representatives — a right utterly denied by a flood of midnight regulations.
This move would be denounced as “partisan” and “divisive.” But Bush should reply by pointing out the crudely partisan nature of Clinton’s midnight regulations. One of the goals of this regulatory frenzy is to plant a political minefield for Bush. The idea is to sow hundreds of objectionable leftist regulations, wait for President Bush to reverse one of them — then attack him ruthlessly for opposing some cherished liberal cause.
That’s why Bush should defuse the trap by reversing all of the midnight regulations, across the board. He should make the debate, not about whether logging should be allowed in a specific forest, but about whether the chief executive should be allowed to abuse his authority by subjecting the nation to an incomprehensible flood of executive decrees.
The theme of Clinton’s administration — his real legacy, if you will — can be summed up in six words: “I can get away with it.” Time and again, Clinton has openly flouted the rule of law and the requirements of basic decency.
In one stroke, by wiping out the past two months of unaccountable lawmaking, President Bush could begin to reverse that disastrous legacy.