Obstinate Agencies Could Face Funding Cuts, Conditions

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By Cheryl Bolen

June 16 — Regulatory agencies that are unresponsive to Congress could face funding cuts or restrictive authorizing bills in 2017, under a plan to curb “executive overreach” unveiled by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

The 22-page plan is intended to restore Congress's constitutional authorities that the plan says have been ceded over the years to the executive branch. House Republican leaders and committee chairmen spoke in support of the plan to an audience assembled June 16 in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.

Ryan cited the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. “What truly makes America free, he argued, is the separation of powers,” Ryan said.

“Our country makes sure that no one person exercises too much power,” Ryan said.

A Better Way

The plan is the fourth of six parts of the House Republican agenda for next year, dubbed “A Better Way.”

In February, Ryan set up the Restoring Constitutional Authority task force, with the goal of recommending ways to overhaul the rulemaking process, check agency authority and exercise the power of the purse (See previous story, 02/05/16).

The plan says that the executive and judicial branches have vastly increased their power—sometimes with and sometimes without Congress’s consent. In addition, the regulatory state has grown into a sort of fourth branch of government, it says.

“Presidents can veto, Supreme Courts can strike down, but Congress has the exclusive seat of lawmaking power—not some guy in the basement of the Labor Department,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

One of the best tools that Congress can use to hold the president accountable is an authorization bill, the plan says. However, some agencies with vast rulemaking powers have no authorizing statute at all—most notably, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reining In Agencies

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) used the National Marine Fisheries Service as an example of overreach, saying the agency has imposed strict limits on fishing for red snapper despite evidence from state universities that the fish is not in short supply.

This federal agency receives $900 million annually but has not been authorized by Congress since 2000, Byrne said. The House is not supposed to appropriate money to an unauthorized agency, he said.

Authorization is not “just some superficial process we go through,” but gives Congress an opportunity to provide oversight into what agencies are doing or not doing, Byrne said.

“So if we provide that sort of oversight, if we give the authorization process exactly the sort of attention it should get, then we can start reining in agencies that are doing things they shouldn't be doing,” Byrne said.

Limiting Agency Funds

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the key to restoring constitutional authority is reclaiming the power of the purse.

Agencies and bureaucrats must be held accountable if they spend any dollar not specifically directed by Congress, Rogers said. “Such actions are violations of federal law and must be treated as such,” he said.

This also means bringing many federal agencies within the congressional appropriations and oversight process, Rogers said.

“And finally, we should aggressively and strategically use the tools that we already have, including limiting and conditioning funds to enforce congressional intent,” Rogers said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com