Speeches

Mr. President: Of the words that the American people use to describe Congress today – at least those that are appropriate to repeat on the Senate floor – one of the most common – and accurate – is unaccountable.

Year after year, hardworking men and women across the country bristle under dysfunctional, costly, burdensome laws made in Washington. And day after day, many of them do what Americans have always done when faced with an out-of-touch government – they contact their elected lawmakers to voice their concerns and push for change.

But ask anyone who has ever called, written, or emailed their member of Congress what happens next: blame is shifted; fingers are pointed; scapegoats of every variety imaginable are brought forth to defend those who are charged with making the laws from the consequences of their handiwork.

This is the very definition of unaccountability, and it pervades the culture of Washington, D.C., because Congress has allowed it to infect our laws and our institutions.

Many Americans assume that they’re being lied to when their elected lawmakers blame someone else for the laws that are raising their cost of living, eating away at their paychecks, and generally making it harder to achieve the American Dream.

But the truth is actually more troubling. Most of the items on the federal government’s interminable list of do’s and don’ts governing nearly every activity of American life are not written, debated, and passed by Congress – they are imposed unilaterally by unelected bureaucrats in one of the Executive Branch’s administrative agencies.

This is true even for what are called “major” rules – which are regulations that cost the American people more than $100 million, each year, in compliance costs.

For instance, look at the Department of Energy, whose appropriations we are currently considering. In a single year – 2015 – the costs of the regulations issued by the Department of Energy exceeded $15 billion.

$15 billion, Mr. President. In one year, it cost the American people $15 billion to comply with the regulations issued by a single bureaucratic agency.

Even if you agree with every cent of that regulatory burden, we should all be able to recognize the danger of allowing a group of people, who never have to stand for election, to squeeze $15 billion out of Americans’ pocketbooks.

That’s why I’m introducing this amendment – #3856 – which would restrict the Department of Energy from spending any funds to implement or enforce regulations whose compliance costs exceed $100 million unless specifically approved by Congress.

Unfortunately, this amendment was blocked from consideration by one of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle for reasons that appear to be unrelated to its merits. Nevertheless, I would like to take a moment to explain how my amendment works.

Mr. President, this amendment would have provided immediate, much-needed financial relief to the budgets of hardworking families and businesses across the country.

It would protect them from the costs of two major rules recently proposed by the DOE that impose new energy-efficiency standards on ceiling fans and commercial packaged boilers.

Just like the Department of Energy’s ban on incandescent lightbulbs, under these rules, Americans would no longer be able to buy ceiling fans or commercial boilers that do not adhere to the government’s strict new standards.

Proponents of the rules think this is a good thing. As former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, said about the lightbulb ban back in 2011, [QUOTE] “We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.”

This government-knows-best approach to regulation is not only arrogant – it’s completely detached from the economic realities of American life today.

Most Americans may buy less energy-efficient ceiling fans than most Washington bureaucrats, not because they’re less intelligent or less concerned about saving energy, but because it’s what they can afford!

The additional costs of these energy-efficiency standards are not insignificant. In fact, it is estimated these two rules would cost American families and businesses more than $3 billion.

Today, the Department of Energy has the power to impose these rules on the public, and there’s very little Congress can do to stop it.

But under my amendment, the two rules would not go into effect unless and until Congress voted to approve them.

This simple, commonsense reform is modeled on the REINS Act, a bill that requires congressional approval for all major rules issued by all executive agencies across the federal government.

Last July, the House of Representatives passed the REINS Act by a vote of 243 to 165, and it currently has 37 cosponsors in the Senate. Support for the legislation is growing, because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the moral and material problems of hiding the regulatory process in the nameless, faceless bureaucracy.

Everyone here knows the regulatory burden in America has become untenable. Every single day, each of us hears from our constituents about how stifling government regulations have become.

The data tell the same story. Just today we saw that the first quarter of 2016 was the third in a row in which private domestic investment has shrunk.

This is disappointing, but not surprising.

According to a recent study by the Mercatus Center, in 2012 “the economy was $4 trillion smaller than it would have been in the absence of regulatory growth since 1980.” That works out to about $13,000 of lost earnings for every man, woman, and child in America.

Now, some of my colleagues may think the costs of our regulatory system are defensible. I certainly don’t, but I know there are different opinions out there. And that’s exactly the point of the REINS Act.

Under the broken status quo, members of Congress can claim innocence when an executive agency imposes a costly and controversial regulation on the country. We don’t even have to debate it.

This may be convenient for those of us in Washington, but it’s fundamentally unfair to the American people. And it’s time that we change it.

Mr. President, if Congress is ever going to win back the trust of the American people, we must prove that we are trustworthy. And the best way to do that is to make ourselves once again accountable for the consequences of the laws of this country.

This amendment would be a significant step toward making Congress accountable again. I regret that it was blocked, but I look forward to advancing similar reforms in the future.

I yield the floor.