That Rep. Tim Griffn, he returns phone calls.
I had asked to speak to the state’s 2nd District congressman for this column about his Red Tape Reduction Small Business Jobs Bill, which passed the House July 26.
The bill would stop the enactment of any new regulation by the president that would have a $100 million impact on the economy – which, in an economy this size, would be just about all of them – until the unemployment rate has fallen to six percent. It grants exceptions for rules regarding national security, trade, criminal and civil rights laws, and threats to health and safety. Any other proposed regulation would require the president to seek congressional approval.
Griffin called me back while on the road with his wife and two young children – one being his 2-year-old son, John, who was full of energy that day and providing a running stream of background commentary.
"I’m not anti-regulation per se, and it’s not reasonable regulations that most folks I know have a problem with," Griffin said from the front seat of his noisy GMC Yukon. "It’s the excessive, what I call excessive and overly burdensome regulations where a cost-benefit analysis has not been done, where regulators are – John, please, please! – where regulators are well-intentioned, but they don’t hit the target that they intended to hit."
Griffin said he receives many visits from business owners complaining about one-size-fits-all regulations that cost them money for no good reason, such as the Little Rock loading dock owner forced to spend $5,000 for a wheelchair ramp that probably won’t be used by anyone.
"Instead of regulating for things that are likely to happen and need regulation and let common sense fill in the other gaps, the federal government … they try to regulate for every hypothetical ever," he said. "So if one person might, maybe possibly be impacted over a 100-year period, versus a million people being impacted over a 100-year period, they often don’t really care. They’re going to regulate in both instances."
Employers, he said, need a timeout from new regulations to get their bearings from all the uncertainty caused by changes in health care and the financial industry.
Plus, he framed the bill as a separation of powers issue. According to Griffin, Congress has ceded too much power to the Oval Office, whose occupant can do through regulation what should be accomplished through the more deliberative lawmaking process.
I asked if the president could just do what he or she wants and call it a national security issue. Griffin said yes, but Congress must have some trust in the executive branch and then can use its oversight powers when it believes that trust has been violated.
He said the chances of the bill passing the Senate were short of impossible, "but it doesn’t look good at all."
I had started with some skepticism about the effort, which sounded to me like typical Washington politics – score political points aiming at an unpopular target (who wants to defend unnecessary regulations?) with a bill that will never become law anyway.
By the time I finished researching the issue and talking to Griffin, I was more supportive of the concept, though not one of the details. In an economy this size, $100 million is so small that the president would have to come to Congress for everything – and currently, Congress has become so dysfunctional that I don’t see how it could handle the new responsibility. Recognizing its own inability to get anything done, Congress recently voted to reduce the amount of presidential appointments the Senate must confirm. How’s it going to cuss and discuss all these regulations?
At the same time, this idea that the president should not enact major changes to American life at the stroke of a pen – that’s not only right, but it’s one of the country’s founding principles. Congress makes the law and the president enforces it – through regulations, yes, but those should stem from the law and not replace it. And of course Griffin is correct when he says that unnecessary regulations, and the uncertainty they cause, are hurting the economy.
So what’s needed is a version of Griffin’s bill with a much higher dollar threshold and a president and Congress who work together in regular order.
Some of that can be accomplished by law, and some will require trust and oversight.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at Arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org