Republicans made it a clean sweep this election season. Against all odds, Republicans maintained their Congressional majorities, won the White House, and presumably ensured that a conservative justice will be appointed to the Supreme Court. And yet, the biggest win, at least in terms of the impact it will have on the lives of average Americans has gone overlooked: the so-called “Fourth Branch” of government.
Jonathan Turley writes for the Washington Post about just how big and powerful the administrative state has become:
The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency. …
The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.
During his campaign President Obama promised to reverse the growth of administrative power, which he described as “one of the biggest problems” facing America.
“I taught constitutional law for 10 years. I take the Constitution very seriously,” Obama said at a campaign rally in 2008. “The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that is what I intend to reverse when I become president of the United States.”
Of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, frustrated by a Congress who didn’t agree with his policies, he set aside the democratic process and his campaign promise and used his executive authority to push his agenda. Binyamin Appelbaum writes for the New York Times:
In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life.
Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.
Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.
All told, the Obama administration rammed through 560 major regulations, defined as those that have an impact on the economy exceeding $100 million, in his first seven years in office, a nearly 50 percent increase compared to George W. Bush. Even the term “major regulation” has taken on a different meaning under Obama. According to an analysis done by Sam Batkins of the American Action Forum, the Obama administration’s rules have cost, on average, $1.4 billion.
President Obama has no intention of slowing down in his final year. Politico reported that “[n]early 4,000 regulations are squirming their way through the federal bureaucracy in the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency…a mad dash by the White House to push through government actions affecting everything from furnaces to gun sales to Guantanamo.”
“We’re running – not walking – through the finish line of President Obama’s presidency,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy wrote in a telling email to staff after Election Day.
Bureaucrats may be rushing to regulate, but the reams of red tape is significantly impeding the American economy’s ability to grow. An innovative new analysis of business’ filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows the risk of regulation to be increasing dramatically. According to the algorithm, from 2010-15 regulatory risk jumped an average of 79 percent across industries. That increase was strongly correlated with a drop in annual capital expenses and a decline in company employment.
In other words, President Obama had it exactly right on the campaign trail: the growth of the administrative state is absolutely “one of the biggest problems” facing America. But rather than take steps to fix it, he’s fallen under its powerful spell. While bureaucrats have grown their fiefdoms, average Americans’ economic wellbeing has dramatically eroded. It’s little wonder then that they selected Mr. Trump, a candidate who pledged to reverse course. Now it’s up to him to do what his predecessor could not…follow through.