This op-ed originally ran in The New York Times.
After decades of failed efforts to enact “regulatory reform” bills, Congress appears to be within a few votes of approving reform legislation that would strip Americans of important legal protections, induce regulatory sclerosis and subject agencies that enforce the nation’s laws and regulations to potentially endless litigation.
This is not reform. These bills would sabotage agency regulation with legislative monkey wrenches. Key compromises about agency power and procedures, worked out under the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act, would be discarded by these overwhelmingly anti-regulatory bills. And because they would be statutory changes, not mere presidential edicts, these changes would likely long outlive the Trump administration.
It is easy to complain about regulation, of course, and much could surely be improved. But government rules are the foundation of the safety net that protects Americans. Are you ready to abandon protections of your drinking water? What about that school hamburger? Is it O.K. to eat? Can you depend on Medicare or Medicaid? Are toys safe? Can workers fight overtime violations or discrimination? Will government agencies be there to police mortgage, student-loan and retirement-savings abuses? Will the education of special-needs students be protected?
Few members of Congress would dare vote directly to eliminate protections like those. But by imposing a byzantine, burdensome process on all agencies, Congress could dodge accountability but nonetheless derail the implementation of popular laws.