Senator Mike Lee: Give More Power to Congress (and Take it Away from Federal Agencies)

The constitutional conservative has an ambitious plan to rebalance the separation of powers


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"A government that's that big, that takes that much of your money, that is big enough and powerful enough to spy on you, to lie to you, to target you, is a government that we ought not have in the first place," Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) told Reason TV.

Mike Lee isn't content simply to identify the out-of-control expansion of federal agencies. He's got his eye on a much larger mission to enact deep structural reform that will rebalance the separation of powers in Washington to their constitutionally prescribed limits. But before he can do that, the junior senator from Utah wants the voting public to understand how federal power got so far out of whack to begin with.

Lee's book, Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America's Founding Document, aims to do just that. It explains how and why Congress delegates much of its authority to federal agencies. Simply put, the outsourcing of power allows legislators to enjoy all of the credit for passing laws, while evading responsibility for the details when things go wrong. "All of the credit, none of the blame," as Senator Lee sums it up.

But while legislators can be held accountable for their actions, federal agencies cannot. Civil servants don't stand for election. Yet they are empowered by Congress to create regulations, enact penalties, and enforce punishment on the public. Today, agencies have become what Senator Lee calls "a super legislative and executive" branch of government unto themselves.

The empowerment of federal agencies is the product of decades of legislative legerdemain, from the New Deal to the present day. The delicate balance of federal authority, which once worked well, has gradually eroded to the point where many constitutional restraints on power have all but disappeared.

What can be done to rebalance power in Washington? Coming from a small government Republican, Senator Lee's solution at first may seem surprising. He wants to restore power and responsibility to Congress by wresting it away from federal agencies.

To that end, the Senator has co-sponsored The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act – or REINS Act, for short – which would require any regulation with an economic impact of $100 million or more to be ratified by Congress. He is also spearheading The Article I Project, which seeks to reassert and reinvigorate congress' legislative power.

The road to reform in Washington is long and uphill. Senator Lee is in it for the long haul.

Runs 15:40 minutes.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Josh Swain and Krainin.

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