Jeb Bush's regulation reform plan isn't bad, but can he be trusted?

Jeb Bush is unveiling a new regulation reform plan which actually isn’t that bad. It includes wanting regulators to remember their “phenomenal cosmic power” is confined, as the Genie would say, into an “itty bitty living space.”

First, we will require regulators to live within a budget – for every one dollar of regulatory cost they propose, they will need to also propose ways to save an equivalent dollar through regulatory relief. We will implement a “one in, one out” regulatory budget. A rule like this would have avoided roughly $99 billion in regulatory costs over the Obama presidency.

The “one in, one out” proposal isn’t bad, but Rand Paul’s is better. He wants it to be two regulations out for every one in. This would stunt the regulatory growth and possibly would put some of the more fetid regulations, like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, in the landfill where they belong. Bush also promises to sign the REINS Act into law, which would require Congress to issue a joint resolution on major new regulations before they can take effect. What’s interesting is Rand Paul is the primary sponsor of the REINS Act, and both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were co-sponsors. Those three should probably point out how Bush is just following their lead.

One thing Bush does do a good job at is pointing out how regulations aren’t just hurting large businesses, but everyday Americans.

The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule subjects nearly all private land use to review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rule, which is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, requires farmers to cater to the EPA in order to obtain permission to build a fence, apply fertilizer, pull weeds, or spray for insects. The rule expands federal authority to virtually all wet areas (and temporarily wet areas) —ditches, drains, seasonal puddle-like depressions, and large “buffer areas” of land adjacent to waterways. For example, the rule subjects 99 percent of Pennsylvania’s acreage to federal jurisdiction. The WOTUS rule unnecessarily and arbitrarily increases the cost and uncertainty of many industrial, commercial, and farming operations. And those who fail to comply face stiff penalties of roughly $40,000 per violation.

Regulators shouldn’t have power over private land. If a homeowner wants to put in a gas well, trailer park, skate park, or a castle with a moat they ought to be able to do it. It’s nice to see Bush point out how the WOTUS rule can hurt land owners, but the question is whether it will resonate with people who don’t live in the country. The only way it can is if it’s messaged right and Bush isn’t always the best messenger. It’s too bad the private land part wasn’t in the outline of Bush’s regulatory proposal because not everyone is going to read the full, 3500+ word document.

The problem is voters will have to take Bush at his word, which may not be possible because of history. President Barack Obama promised to review regulations in 2011, but the Competitive Enterprise Institute pointed out the Administration is still averaging 81 new major regulations each year and the fact the 2014 Federal Register is the sixth highest in its history. There’s also the question if Jeb Bush will be any better of a reformer than George W. Bush. Veronique de Rugy wrote in Reason in 2009 how George W. was one of the biggest regulators since Nixon (emphasis mine).

Since Bush took office in 2001, there has been a 13 percent decrease in the annual number of new rules. But the new regulations’ cost to the economy will be much higher than it was before 2001. Of the new rules, 159 are “economically significant,” meaning they will cost at least $100 million a year. That’s a 10 percent increase in the number of high-cost rules since 2006, and a 70 percent increase since 2001. And at the end of 2007, another 3,882 rules were already at different stages of implementation, 757 of them targeting small businesses.

Overall, the final outcome of this Republican regulation has been a significant increase in regulatory activity and cost since 2001. The number of pages added to the Federal Register, which lists all new regulations, reached an all-time high of 78,090 in 2007, up from 64,438 in 2001.

De Rugy also points out George W.’s approval of Sarbanes-Oxley and McCain-Feingold are why the GOP can’t be trusted. Jeb Bush is NOT Barack Obama. But there’s no guarantee Jeb Bush won’t be his brother because one of Jeb’s top economic advisers was an adviser to George W. Peter Suderman at Reason also notes how regulatory growth is something Democrats and Republicans do.

But the growth in regulation is an old and bipartisan problem. As Chris DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute wrote in a compelling 2012 essay on the regulatory state for National Affairs, “The modern regulatory state is a bipartisan enterprise: During the half-century before President Obama’s election, the greatest growth in regulation came under Presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.” Indeed, many major Obama-era regulations were primed by Bush-era legislation and rule changes.

Rather than a partisan or political issue, the growth of the regulatory state is, as DeMuth argues, an institutional issue—which is to say that it’s a cultural issue, pervasive in Washington, in which it’s become the norm for Congress to effectively hand over its legislative power to federal agencies.Instead of a Congress that makes law itself, we have a system of what DeMuth refers to as “delegated lawmaking,” or “law-by-regulation,” in which Congress provides regulators with goals and then essentially gives them carte blanche to institute whatever rules—which is to say whatever laws—they want in service of those goals. 

Jeb Bush’s regulatory framework isn’t bad, but it needs to go further to get rid of regulations. It’s nice he’s saying businesses should be focused on business, not whether their counter is five inches too short or too long. It could be more aggressive in trying to crack down on regulations, but that may be too inside baseball for non-political or business junkies. Americans don’t really think about regulations until a crisis pops up or jobs start getting lost. If there was a way to message this better, maybe it would resonate more with the generic voter.

It’s always nice when politicians move past the rhetoric of “jobs” and “immigration” and “national security” and actually bother to submit an actual platform. It was nice to see Donald Trump’s policy outline on the Second Amendment and his desire to have conceal carry licenses work in all 50 states. His push for mandatory minimums and how he wants to do mental health care leave more to be desired, but it’s pleasing Trump put out a detailed position. It’s nice Chris Christie is talking entitlement reform and has a plan on that. The same goes for Bush on this regulation reform proposal. This doesn’t mean voters should go flocking to Bush to be the GOP nominee (he’s not even in my top 10 of preferred candidates). It’s just nice when candidates are more than just soundbites.

Trending on HotAir Video