THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION seems to have escaped the evisceration threatened a few days ago by a House Appropriations subcommittee. The odds are that some dismemberment of this and other regulatory agencies will occur before the members of Congress go home to face the voters.
This is, no doubt, good news to many critics of government regulations and the agencies that write and enforce them. At long last, the bureaucrats are getting theirs -- or so it seems. But the problem of curtailing unnecessary government regulation is tougher than many critics (and many members of Congress) think it is, and the danger is that the 96th Congress will end up making things worse instead of better.
Consider some of the remedies that have been suggested. First, there is the proposal to give the federal courts more supervisory authority over the regulatory agencies. This is likely to create more red tape and lawyers' fees than it eliminates. Then, there is the legislative veto. It's probably unconstitutional and, at least in its one-house form, is certainly a lobbyist's dream come true.
Next comes the idea of cutting off an agency's funds for any investigation that a member of Congress doesn't like. Might as well abolish the agencies altogether as do that -- given the ties that every industry has to at least one powerful member. Finally, there is the proposal not to permit commissioners, in particular those of the FTC, to talk to staff members of the commission. This would defeat the whole idea of what regulatory commissions are about.
It is understandable that some members of Congress are attracted to these wild schemes. When OSHA's efforts at expansive regulation backfired, business all over the country learned that if the complaints were loud enough something might happen. Right now, the FTC's regulations are beginning to bite, and when the funeral directors and the used-car dealers back home complain, congressmen listen.
Sen. Wendell Ford, however, seems to have the situation in perspective. He told his colleagues the other day that congressional oversight through its regular committees is the best mechanism for solving problems with overeager regulatory agencies.It seems to have worked with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and it is likely to work with the others.
Unfortunately, congressional oversight is slow and unspectacular. It doesn't have the political appeal of a quick fix that will let members go home a year from now and explain how they have voted to stop those awful bureaucrats dead in their tracks. But it works. And it doesn't destroy the good regulatory agencies and the needed regulations along with the bad and the unnecessary. Congress ought to think about it.