Partisan wrangling in Congress over the federal deficit and government spending has created gridlock. Not much else is getting done. Into that void have stepped federal bureaucrats who are circumventing Congress to implement sweeping policy changes.
With President Obama's legislative initiatives stalled in Congress, his appointed agency directors are finding ways to implement his programs without congressional approval. These aren't penny-ante changes - some programs carry trillion-dollar price tags.
One example is the agenda of organized labor. Congress angered union leaders when it failed to approve union-backed "card check" legislation. The measure would have eliminated the secret ballot when workers vote whether to approve a union in the workplace. In the wake of that defeat, pro-union activists appointed by the president to the National Labor Relations Board are doing what they can to help push through the union agenda.
Case in point: Obama's NLRB stepped in on behalf of the unions asking an administrative law judge to shut down Boeing's non-union South Carolina production facility. NLRB General Counsel Lafe Solomon says Boeing acted out of "anti-union animus," and its decision to move had the effect of "discouraging membership in a labor organization" and thus violates federal law.
While NLRB rules allow for companies to make decisions based on economics, the unions claim that Boeing set up a second production line in South Carolina for the 787 Dreamliner in retaliation for union strikes against the company. Never mind the fact that the machinists union shut down Boeing's commercial aircraft production line four times since 1989, a 58-day strike in 2008 cost the company $1.8 billion and the company has a backlog of 800 orders for an aircraft that is more than three years behind schedule.
Another example is when the Senate tubed the president's costly cap-and-trade bill to control greenhouse gases. The Environmental Protection Agency systematically implemented its own version of the program through new regulations on coal and wood-fired power plants - regulations that are estimated to cost more than $15 billion. Those new standards will shut down coal-fired power plants, which, in some parts of the nation, are the primary source of electricity.
Worse yet, the National Association of Manufacturers estimates the EPA's proposed ozone standard will add more than $1 trillion per year in new regulatory costs and will result in the loss of 7.3 million American jobs by 2020. Those new costs will be passed on to families, hospitals, schools and businesses, increasing consumer prices during a crushing recession.
So how do we stop this juggernaut?
Congress should wake up, and regardless of party affiliation, those we elect to legislate need to take back control of the legislative branch of government. Congress sets policy and federal agencies enforce it - at least that's how our separation of powers is supposed to work. The end-run around Congress by federal bureaucrats must stop.
Congress is distracted because lawmakers are embroiled in a high-stakes, high-profile fight over our $14.3 trillion national debt. Right now each taxpayer's share is $130,000 and every citizen owes $46,300.
Unfortunately, paying off that debt is much harder when agencies like EPA and the NLRB are running up costs for business, making it harder for private-sector employers to create jobs, driving up consumer prices and increasing gas prices and utility bills for America's families.
One fact should not escape the president, Congress and the bureaucrats: according to the National Association of Manufacturers, because of taxes and regulatory costs, American plant owners' costs are 18 percent higher than their nearest competitors, and that figure doesn't include labor costs. By ceding their authority to unelected bureaucrats, Congress is driving those costs even higher.
It has to stop. The president needs to back off and rein in his activist appointees. Our nation is in serious trouble.
- Don C. Brunell is president
of the Association
of Washington Business.