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Winning a step at a time

 My old boss, Jack Kemp, used to talk about the competition of ideas. As a professional football player, Jack was used to competition as a way of life. He believed that competition made everyone better. It sharpened your thinking and helped improve your ideas. And being an optimist and a fierce competitor, he always thought he would win. But for Jack it was always worthwhile to take the risk of legislative competition and try to move your ideas forward. He knew that he wouldn’t win every battle, but he also knew that he wouldn’t win anything unless he was ready to battle, and in the legislative arena, compromise, to advance his ideas toward his ultimate goal.

Many conservatives today are horrified at the growth of our federal government, and the tremendous spending increases in past couple of years. They look at the hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations written in the past few years and see an out of control bureaucracy racing to write more regulations and regulate the American people even further. Their reaction is to stand athwart congress and yell ‘stop!’ That is the necessary first step. However, to change direction there must be more steps.

The only way to change the direction of the federal government and to solve the problems it causes is by working to change the laws and using the power of the purse which resides in the hands of the Congress to control the burgeoning regulatory actions. That is not an “all or nothing” proposition. It inevitably results in some compromise to move toward your goal.

Let me offer two ideas that could begin to address the problems conservatives see with the recently passed laws and the growing regulatory burden.

Since the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there has been a continuing tendency to write legislation that is more and more general. Indeed, many of the bills passed today assume that the most critical decisions will be made by the bureaucracy through the regulatory process. By writing legislation this way, the congress forfeits its control over the broad sweep of policy. In recent years there have been repeated attempts to require that regulations which have a large cost or impact on the people be submitted to the congress for final approval. This is backwards. It would be much more useful for congress to write legislation that carefully defines and clearly circumscribes the power of the bureaucracy by including specific language on critical issues in the bill.

If legislation was more carefully crafted this way, it would require a return to the regular order. Congress would have to hold intensive hearings, develop critical information, take time in subcommittee and full committee to write legislation that clearly defines what congress wants to accomplish and limits the bureaucracy’s power to write regulations. An open amendment process on the floor of the House and the Senate would be the next step to provide the debate and discussion necessary to achieve legislation that balances the concerns of elected representatives.

There will always be issues that divide the American people and the congress. The strongly held opinions of supporters on both sides of the political aisle are necessary and good for the process. But if there is not an opportunity for open debate and full consideration that requires both time and the regular order, we will never find the opportunity to move forward though the competition of ideas and the resolution of the honest, and valid, differences that exist and will continue to be debated.