Draw the cur­tain on Dems’ the­ater of point­less ges­tures

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Ge­orge Will

— Seven­teen days be­fore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, his spo­ken oath of of­fice still lin­ger­ing in the win­try air, lifts his left hand from Scrip­ture (a leather-bound edi­tion of “The Art of the Deal”), the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress will be­gin work­ing. Fit­tingly, on Jan. 3 the First Branch of govern­ment will go first, flex­ing its some­what at­ro­phied Ar­ti­cle I mus­cles.

When Trump reaches his desk on the morn­ing of Jan. 21, he should find there two con­gres­sional mea­sures em­blem­atic of how quickly elec­tions can have con­se­quences. One should be the Reg­u­la­tions from the Ex­ec­u­tive in Need of Scru­tiny Act (REINS). The other should be leg­is­la­tion man­dat­ing con­struc­tion of the Key­stone XL pipe­line. As pres­i­dent, Trump will have the author­ity and in­tent to pro­ceed with con­struc­tion, but Congress should make the point that this con­cerns na­tional pol­icy, which Congress should set.

The REINS Act would be­gin Congress’s re­trieval from the ex­ec­u­tive branch of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties the Founders vested in the leg­isla­tive branch. The act


would sharply slow the growth of reg­u­la­tions that are suf­fo­cat­ing eco­nomic growth. REINS would re­quire Congress to vote on — to have its fin­ger­prints on — all “ma­jor” reg­u­la­tions, un­der­stood as those with an an­nual eco­nomic im­pact of at least $100 mil­lion. Congress would thus take re­spon­si­bil­ity for, and be held ac­count­able for, the sub­stance that ex­ec­u­tive agen­cies’ rule mak­ing pours into the al­most-empty ves­sels that Congress im­pre­cisely calls “laws.”

Af­ter the pre­am­ble, the Con­sti­tu­tion’s first sub­stan­tive word is “all”: “All leg­isla­tive pow­ers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress.” But the more than 170,000 pages of the Code of Fed­eral Reg­u­la­tions con­tain tens of thou­sands of rules pro­mul­gated by largely un­ac­count­able agen­cies. The agen­cies fill voids in con­gres­sional “laws” such as the Dod­dFrank fi­nan­cial re­form, which man­dates, but does not de­fine — that is left to ex­ec­u­tive rule mak­ers — “fair, trans­par­ent and com­pet­i­tive” fi­nan­cial prod­ucts and ser­vices. As of five years ago — it is sub­stan­tially worse now — the govern­ment it­self es­ti­mated that reg­u­la­tions cost the econ­omy more than $1.75 tril­lion, al­most twice the sum of in­come tax re­ceipts then.

Op­po­si­tion to the Key­stone XL pipe­line has il­lus­trated en­vi­ron­men­tal- ism’s, and the Demo­cratic Party’s, de­scent into the the­ater of point­less ges­tures. The na­tion is criss­crossed with more than 2 mil­lion miles of nat­u­ral gas pipe­lines and 175,000 miles of pipe­lines car­ry­ing haz­ardous liq­uids. Yet our the­atri­cally thought­ful cur­rent pres­i­dent wasted seven years pre­tend­ing to pon­der the weighty ques­tion of whether Key­stone’s 1,179 miles — bring­ing oil from Al­berta, Canada, to Ne­braska — might some­how men­ace the na­tion and planet.

Some of the oil would be from Canada’s tar sands. Key­stone op­po­nents say such oil is es­pe­cially “dirty,” so the pipe­line, by en­abling the oil to get to mar­ket, would in­jure the cli­mate. But even if the op­po­nents’ al­le­ga­tions about the tar sands oil can be trusted, the al­le­ga­tions are ir­rel­e­vant: The op­po­nents ev­i­dently be­lieve that if the pipe­line is not built, Canada will sim­ply say “Oh, dang!” and leave the world’s third­largest proven crude oil re­serve — larger than Iran’s — locked up in the tar sands. The op­po­nents ev­i­dently think that if they block the pipe­line, this vast wealth will not find an­other way into the in­ter­na­tional oil mar­ket.

Fur­ther­more, with­out Key­stone XL, more oil will be trans­ported by trains, which have no­table car­bon foot­prints and some­times spec­tac­u­lar spills. Hence leg­is­la­tion man­dat­ing the pipe­line’s con­struc­tion will not only cre­ate jobs, which once upon a time was a Demo­cratic pri­or­ity, it should soothe cli­mate anx­i­eties.

So, Congress should call this Key­stone XL leg­is­la­tion the “Zach, We Feel Your Pain Act.” Af­ter the elec­tion, some­one re­port­edly named Zach, a Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee staffer, suf­fered a hi­lar­i­ous erup­tion of hys­te­ria. In the process of blam­ing DNC in­terim Chair Donna Brazile for the lost elec­tion (wrong woman, Zach), he said, ac­cord­ing to The Huff­in­g­ton Post:

“You and your friends will die of old age and I’m go­ing to die from cli­mate change. You and your friends let this hap­pen, which is go­ing to cut 40 years off my life ex­pectancy.”

Well. Sup­pose Zach is 30 and ex­pects that, although he ap­pears to be un­healthily ex­citable, his life ex­pectancy is 90. If cli­mate change sub­tracts 40 of Zach’s years, it is go­ing to kill him within 20 years. Per­haps Zach can take grim plea­sure from the fact that Brazile, a vig­or­ous and cheer­ful 56, prob­a­bly will still be spry when the Grim Cli­mate Reaper swings his deadly scythe. Be that as it may, con­sider that Zach’s scary arith­metic prob­a­bly rep­re­sents com­mon­place think­ing within the Demo­cratic Party, aka “the party of sci­ence.”

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post. com.

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