Friday, July 01, 2016
Billy Long: Following the Constitution is the better way
President Abraham Lincoln once warned, "Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties." He understood that the separation of powers outlined in our constitution were crucial to the basic functioning of a democratic government that puts the will of the people first.
Constitutionally, Congress has the power to write laws, raise or lower revenues, and spend or borrow money on behalf of the United States. However, over the past few decades Congress has seen this power slip away. Oppositely, the executive and judicial branches have greatly expanded their powers. Also, a fourth branch of regulation has recently come to be through the executive's accumulation of powers to create, interpret, and enforce their will.
Some of us in the House of Representatives have had enough of this, and have rolled out a robust plan - "A Better Way: Our Vision For A Confident America" - to reset the scales of constitutional power so that Congress can represent the voice of the electorate as our founders intended.
Firstly, this plan calls for us to reestablish and enforce limits on federal agencies with better authorization bill practices. Take for instance the annual National Defense Authorization Act. This bill gives specific instructions to the Department of Defense and brings about effective oversight because results can be measured against expectations every year and adjusted accordingly. We must rework our system so that other agencies with vast rulemaking powers but no systematic congressional authorization statute - like the Environmental Protection Agency - are held more accountable.
Among the proposals to make this happen are for Congress to enact a judicial procedure permitting both chambers expedited reviews of lawsuits against the executive branch for failure to execute congressionally written laws, and strengthened Agency Inspectors General (IGs) to identify fraud and prevent improper money transfer payments.
It's important to understand that valid federal rules hold the same legal powers over people in the courts as any congressionally written statute. There are some good reasons why Congress would need to delegate rulemaking authority to agencies, but it is intended to be used to develop technical rules for lawful administration and usually follows a process allowing public comment under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). However, we are finding more and more that agencies are sidestepping APA requirements and essentially standing in the place of Congress to implement their own agendas. The 'Better Way' plan calls on Congress to become much stricter and specific when writing statute to avoid these agencies' open-ended interpretations, and for agencies to report more meticulously on their actions.
Inherent in the House of Representatives' "power of the purse" is its duty to conduct oversight of where taxpayer dollars are going in our agencies. Our new proposals call on committees to conduct even more robust oversight of laws, programs, and agencies, while now including other reforms like expedited access to federal courts to enforce subpoenas to reassert the separation of powers.
The Obama Administration has issued numerous new major regulations. This new plan proposes a requirement of presidential administrations to disclose full information on developing regulations, including objectives, costs, and their legal arguments for rules. Furthermore, in order to fully abide by the Constitution, I believe that we should work toward a system where all federal agencies must submit major regulations to Congress for approval. I believe that this plan will lead to clearer laws, more transparency at federal agencies, and more accountability across the board.