It was almost four months ago that we gathered here, in front of this inspiring portrait, to launch the Article I Project – a new network of House and Senate conservatives working together on a new agenda of government reform and congressional rehabilitation.
The starting point for that agenda is the simple observation that the federal government is broken, and congressional weakness is to blame.
But it’s important not to conflate a broken federal government with an inoperative federal government. Likewise, we must be careful not to assume that congressional weakness is equivalent to congressional innocence.
Indeed, the problem that we’re here to address today – the problem of our hyperactive Executive Branch bureaucracy writing upwards of 95 percent of all new federal “laws” without winning a single vote in Congress or at the ballot box – was primarily created by the Legislative Branch for its own convenience.
At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, why would Congress willfully relinquish its legislative authority exclusively granted to it by Article I of the Constitution?
And more to the point, if the lawmaking powers now exercised by the Executive Branch were not usurped by bureaucratic agents, why is it so common to hear members of Congress rail against the federal bureaucracy and accuse its rule-writing agencies of executive overreach?
To understand why members of Congress would intentionally empower bureaucrats to legislate for them, we need to recognize that lawmaking is not just a power – it’s also a responsibility.
Legislating is hard work. This was the lesson of the classic Schoolhouse Rock episode, “I’m Just a Bill” – which, I should note for all the young people in the room, is available on YouTube.
In the animated video, a walking and talking legislative bill sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill explains to a young boy how laws are made in the federal government.
The process amounts to a “long, long journey” through Congress’s parallel committee systems. And it involves a “long, long wait” as members of the House and Senate amend and debate the bill in order to build the consensus needed for a majority to vote for it and send it to the president, who can either sign the bill into law or veto it.
Zeroing in on the moral of the story, the boy finally asks, “It’s not easy to become a law, is it?”
Nor should we expect it to be. There are 535 members of Congress representing some 318 million Americans living in thousands of communities spread across 50 sovereign states. It’s not easy for a group that large and diverse to agree on anything – let alone what the nation’s laws should be.
Legislating is also risky: if, after all that work, your constituents dislike the legislation you wrote or supported, they may vote you out of office the next chance they get!
Over the past century, successive generations of elected policymakers in Congress have sought to escape this stringent accountability inherent in constitutional lawmaking.
Instead of writing laws containing specific rules of action and distinct standards of legality, most major bills passed by Congress simply establish aspirational guidelines, while delegating to the Executive Branch the power to determine the specifics.
For the rule-writing bureaucrats, these open-ended laws are gifts that keep on giving. For instance, in the years since Congress first passed the Clean Air Act in 1977, federal bureaucrats have used the law to enact more than 13,500 pages of regulations – roughly 30 pages for every page of legislative text.
But for the American people, this kind of government without consent is a violation of the social compact at the heart of our Republic and exactly why they no longer trust the federal government.
Earning back the American people’s trust is the chief objective of the Article I Project’s agenda to re-empower Congress.
And it’s why today we’re introducing the Article I Regulatory Budget Act – a bill that will put the Legislative Branch back in charge of lawmaking and, by extension, put the American people back in charge of Washington.
I will let my colleagues dig into the details of the legislation, and I look forward to the input of the esteemed panelists that we’ll hear from later this morning.
If you’re interested in learning more about this reform and the ideas behind it, I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the A1P policy brief, “Leashing Leviathan: The Case for a Congressional Regulatory Budget.”