There is a blizzard going on in Washington, D.C., but it differs from the kind of winter snowfall that is expected at this time of year. The flurries that typically lend a sense of enchantment to the season have been replaced by an avalanche of legal blather, which has muscled its way into the Federal Register. Unprecedented in United States history, the onslaught of executive branch activity has added as many as 30,000 pages of government regulation to the books.
It should not really surprise us. We have seen this pillage of power many times before with this administration. The latest perversion of authority is consistent with prior executive orders and proclamations that have created law, confiscated property, distorted military policy and otherwise severely undermined the doctrine of separation of powers, as explicitly mandated by the United States Constitution. Failure to halt the usurpation has only served to embolden the perpetrator.
Now President Clinton is consulting with Department of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit about whether to sign a presidential proclamation to declare the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a national monument. If executed according to plan, the proclamation will once again involve use of the 1906 Antiquities Act and will substantially augment the millions of acres across the western United States that have already been set aside by Clinton.
With one renegade signature, oil drilling in the area, which was discussed during the presidential campaign as a viable option, would be prohibited. In addition, the rest of the world, and the oil producing exporters in particular, would receive an irresolute message that the United States has chosen to continue a policy of energy dependence.
It appears that other executive agencies want to indulge in the regulation manufacturing business as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is designing so-called ergonomic regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supplementing its already voluminous collection of irrational and arbitrary rules. The United States Forest Service is trying to fashion 60 million acres of wilderness by barring roads in vast areas of government land. Other bureaucrats are devising ways to disallow government contracts with businesses that have had labor, health or environmental complaints filed against them.
So why is the administration trying to set a record for the biggest blitz ever of executive orders and regulations? It may be due to an incessant search for a more edifying legacy than the one that persists. However, the recent debate about whether or not an economic downturn has already begun may be more revealing of the true motivation.
Will the effect of adding 30,000 pages of regulations targeted toward entrepreneurial activities in the private sector be to sabotage an already weakened economy, one that is poised to be inherited by the new incoming administration? Perhaps. An increase in red tape and regulation often correlates with a decrease in business productivity.
Good financial times were always the stuff of bragging rights and high job approval ratings. In no way does President Clinton want to share responsibility for any economic lull, dip, slump, droop or slide. Coupled with this reluctance is the possibility that many Democrats would rejoice if an economic downswing could be pinned squarely on a Bush/Cheney administration.
There are steps that must be taken by our new president if he is to thwart this potentiality. The action does not require bipartisanship. Nor does it require cooperation from Congress. What it does require is political will, a healthy dose of determination and the appropriate personnel to accomplish the task.
Regulations must be unilaterally trimmed back to levels below where they were when Clinton took office. The collection of illegal executive orders that have been placed by Bill Clinton and his predecessors in the Federal Register must be revoked. And this last batch of regulations that was created by federal agencies gone wild must be removed.
It is hoped that when George W. Bush assumes office, he will see this farewell executive and regulatory discharge for what it truly is - a threat to America's economic, political and social well being.