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July 30, 2014 10:16 AM Catch of the Day: Paperwork Republic

By Jonathan Bernstein

A Catch for some excellent reporting goes to the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, who delivered a wonderful example of what two decades of Republican governance, the Gingrich Way, has produced.

A short description:

Step One: Newt Gingrich-era Congress turns a soundbite — unelected bureaucrats are writing all these horrible regulations without Congressional participation! — into a massive make-work mandate to produce meaningless paperwork;

Step Two: Tea Party-era Congress slashes federal staffing, reducing the number of people available to do meaningless paperwork;

Step Three: Government agencies stop bothering with meaningless paperwork. As a result, enactment of some regulations may not be technically correct.

It’s a perfect example of post-policy Republicanism — going back two decades.

In case you’re wondering, this requirement that agencies notify Congress about regulations has nothing to do with scaling back federal power or reducing the government’s role. For that, you need action (a law to eliminate, for example, Coast Guard regulation of offshore fireworks displays, if that’s what you want). All these mandated requirements do is force government bureaucrats to perform additional paperwork, most of which is filed away and never read. Or, lately, not done, not filed away and not read.

If the original idea had merit, it’s pretty clear after 20 years that it hasn’t worked out in practice. Of course, it could easily be repealed or modified. But that would take a Congress that actually cares about the substance of government (though to be fair, Democrats did nothing to clean up the mess when they ran Congress from 2007 to 2011). So, yeah, it probably ain’t gonna happen.

Still: Nice catch!

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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