Senator Plotting Attack on Public Safeguards

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) took to the pages of The Washington Post yesterday to peddle new, anti-regulatory legislation he plans to introduce in 2011. Warner’s legislation “would require federal agencies to identify and eliminate one existing regulation for each new regulation they want to add.”

So, to illustrate a possible example, if the Food and Drug Administration or USDA wants to set a new standard for E. coli, they first have to eliminate a current standard for salmonella. Makes sense to me.

Warner’s bill would use cost-benefit analysis as its measuring stick. The regulation an agency chooses to eliminate would have to be “of the same approximate economic impact” as the new regulation.

Warner, adopting the mantra of special interest lobbyists from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and elsewhere, says his legislation is necessary to address “regulatory uncertainty,” though he provides no examples of existing regulations that are creating uncertainty. Warner says his bill would “help simplify or eliminate outdated rules,” but he provides no examples of rules he’d like to see rolled back. (My hypothesis: he can’t.)

Simply put, Warner’s bill is bad policy because regulations are necessary to prevent oil spills, mine explosions, foodborne illness outbreaks, financial meltdowns, and the like. Warner writes, “no one is seriously questioning the need for common-sense rules of the road to protect American consumers, public health and our environment,” but his bill would undermine the very protections he claims to believe in. (Aside: Plenty of people are questioning the need for good regulation, including the Chamber. He should be distancing himself from these interests, not embracing them.)

Warner’s proposal has all the polish and sophistication of a 4th Grade civics project – and not a particularly good one. Agencies exist to enforce the laws Congress passes. All regulations, directly or indirectly, trace their lineage back to statute. In many cases, it will actually be illegal for agencies to eliminate certain rules.

And what about the benefits? For most regulations, the benefits to the economy outweigh the costs. If an agency writes a new rule with significant benefits to the economy, would that agency then need to find a way to impose additional costs on society in order to keep Warner’s imaginary regulatory ledger in balance? I would hope not.

What are your reactions? Please leave them in the comments below.

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