Sen. Mark Warner: Remove The Red Tape
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From Senator Mark Warner of Virginia comes a proposal to regulate regulations. Senator Warner, who's a Democrat, made a fortune in telecommunications before he went into politics. He wrote in The Washington Post last week that CEOs think Washington regulators are stifling fresh investment and discouraging innovation through new rules and requirements.
And so, Senator Warner, as I understand your proposal, you would say for every new regulation Washington institutes, Washington should phase out some old regulation. Do I have that right?
Senator MARK WARNER (Democrat, Virginia): That's the basis. But let's start with the challenge here. We all understand there's a need for legitimate, solid regulation. We saw that in the aftermath of the financial crisis. We saw that in the aftermath of the mining disaster, the oil spill disaster in the Gulf or some of the tainted food problems we've had recently.
But we've got to recognize in the context that the federal government has added 132,000 regulations over the last couple of decades, and there's no incentive in place to ever go back and review some of those regulations that have outlived their usefulness.
And as we look around the world, one of the fascinating things is that recently the United Kingdom passed America in terms of being viewed as a more competitive business economy. One of the reasons they did that is because they, over the last five years, have taken on regulatory reform. They've actually put in place their proposal, as they called it, One In One Out.
And my approach is more an American political terminology called Regulatory Pay-Go. So if a regulation met a certain burden of cost, that the agency would then be obliged to remove a similar type of regulation of equal or near equal cost. And, of course, this would have to be then blessed on an annual basis so you don't have regulations that are key to the public health and safety taken away.
SIEGEL: But you mentioned several of the recent events that illustrate the need for regulations. We could throw in the Madoff scandal and the failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to catch that one. We could throw in FDA regulations of tobacco.
If there were pressure to eliminate regulations, what would give you confidence that lobbying pressure in Washington wouldn't force out plenty of babies along with the bathwater?
Sen. WARNER: Well, that's the key. Remember, we're going to be confronted with, particularly from the new House, regulatory moratoriums, putting a complete hold on all regulations. Not a right way to go when you've got either new scientific information or a crisis.
And I was someone who helped draft the financial reform bill, which puts in place a new set of financial tools. So I believe in the valid role of regulation. This effort says trying this for at least a three-year period, where we would go back and kind of cull out some of the close to 130,000-plus regulations that have been added over the last two decades, and then putting a congressional check on the back end of that to make sure that, as you said, you're not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, is terribly important, appropriate check on this.
SIEGEL: How do you respond to the remark about your column and your proposal that having not only been involved in crafting the financial services regulatory bill, but having supported the big health care bill, those are the biggest new regulations introduced that business and individuals have to cope with, and therefore, you have contributed to red tape, as critics of those bills would say?
Sen. WARNER: As I said at the outset, there is clearly a need for new regulations in a series of areas where we either confront a new crisis, as in the financial excess, or when we try to recognize the fact that if we can't get our health care costs under control, any effort at deficit reduction is basically meaningless.
So I am not anti-regulatory. I am simply saying we need to put in place an incentive structure that has the agency try to strike some balance. Until very recently, there was not even a clear, transparent accumulation of the 130,000-plus regulations that have been added in the last two decades.
SIEGEL: Of those 130,000 regulations, are there are one or two that are your favorites for being phased out as soon as possible?
Sen. WARNER: Just taking a couple of the examples, not mine, but of the Small Business Administration, there's regulations right now that require duplicative background checks for commercial truck drivers. There's requirements in certain - for example, dentist offices for folks across the board to have a series of training on how to deal with interchange with blood. The question is, should it apply to the secretary at the front of the office?
I think this will strike the right balance at the agency level, trying to put appropriate incentives. And when the alternative is an arbitrary regulatory moratorium, I think my more balanced, centrist approach is a way that gets at competitiveness but also gets at the question of trying to strike this balance of where we do need new regulations, making sure that they are still being able to put in place.
SIEGEL: Senator Warner, thank you very much for talking with us.
Sen. WARNER: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia.
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