Return to Regular Order Means Reigning In EPA | Commentary
If there is one lasting change the 114th Congress should seek to make, it is the return to regular order. The Founding Fathers intentionally made it difficult for the federal government to enact laws but not impossible. The seeming impossibility of any meaningful congressional action has instead been wrought by closely divided congressional chambers, bitter partisanship and misapplication of Senate rules.
With Congress on the sidelines, the Obama administration has repeatedly overstepped its executive authority by enacting new rules and regulations without regard for the safeguards established more than 225 years ago. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is illegally using an obscure provision of the 1970 Clean Air Act to advance the president’s climate plan without congressional regard and despite sharp criticism from states, industries and constitutional scholars. Even Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, a teacher and longtime supporter of President Barack Obama, noted in his comments of opposition to EPA that the agency “is asserting executive power far beyond its lawful authority.”
Beyond its constitutional problems, the president’s plan will cause severe and long-lasting damage to the economy. In fact, according to a recent study by National Economic Research Associates Economic Consulting, the costs to comply with EPA’s proposal could total $366 billion, on the conservative end, and create double-digit electricity price increases in 43 states. With such massive and far-reaching implications, shouldn’t Congress have a role in developing energy policy as it is charged with crafting?
Fortunately, the 114th Congress has the opportunity to restore the proper checks and balances to our system while reigning in EPA in the process. An important step came late last year when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will return to regular order and allow the Senate to debate and vote on amendments on the Senate floor. Former Majority Leader Harry Reid had been all too anxious to avoid debate or votes on the president’s climate plan.
In addition to the basics of debating and voting on amendments, Congress’ appropriations process provides another useful vehicle to push back against agencies running amok. Congress needs to return to passing individual appropriations bills for specific agencies rather than passing year-end, all-encompassing omnibus bills. Individual funding bills provide members of Congress, who were elected by the American people, a mechanism to ensure they have a voice in the policies being driven by political appointees.
Finally, members of Congress need to work closely not just with one another, but with their counterparts in their home states. While federal policies are enacted in D.C., state governments are often left with the job of implementing those policies or leading the charge against overturning them if they are not workable, which is certainly the case with the president’s climate plan.
When EPA solicited comments on the president’s plan, at least 27 states argued the agency was exceeding its legal authority with 26 states calling on EPA to withdraw the proposal. Through legal challenges and legislative action, state governments are preparing to preserve their authority and fight EPA. It goes without saying that federal legislators must be informed about what is happening in their own states to truly act in the best interests of their constituents.
As poll after polls shows, the American public is keenly aware of and dissatisfied with the status quo of never-ending, partisan gridlock in the nation’s capital. Regular order in Congress, and with the president’s power, is what’s called for in the weeks and months ahead. Only by returning to the model set out by our founding fathers can we hope to achieve normalcy in our legislative process and success for our country. Let Congress make policy.
Mike Duncan is president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and former RNC Chairman.