Alaska Rep. Don Young suggested Tuesday he plans to introduce a bill to repeal every regulation that's been put into effect in the last 20 years, an idea that could have huge implications for everything from aviation safety to oil drilling if it actually happened.
"My bill is very simple, I just null and void any regulations passed in the last 20 years," Young told the Anchorage Downtown Rotary Club. "I picked 20 years ago because it crossed party lines and also we were prosperous at that time. And no new regulations until they can justify them."
At least some members of the Rotary crowd appeared taken aback by the breadth of what Young appeared to be saying, given all of the passenger jet safety, pesticide, food safety, banking and other regulations that have come into place since 1991.
One man at the luncheon stood and asked Young whether the congressman felt there should be any regulation of Wall Street.
Young responded he was not an expert on financial regulation but does believe there's a role for it, so long as the government doesn't go too far.
"When we deregulated the financial institutions which we did I believe probably 10 years ago we created some problems. There's no doubt about that. I'm more interested in regulations that do not have any founding," Young said, talking about paperwork required to meet transportation security regulations for barge commerce on the Yukon River.
Young spokesman Luke Miller, asked after the luncheon for clarification whether his boss does intend to file a bill seeking to roll back all federal regulations to pre-1991 levels, said the congressman was referring to legislation currently being developed. Miller described the overall theory as attempting to counter the "regulatory overreach" of the executive branch. He asserted there are thousands of rules not intended by Congress with a compliance cost Young considers enormous.
"While there are certainly regulations that are essential for public health and safety; the amount of regulations coming from the federal government and the extent to how they affect everyday life in America is outrageous," Young's spokesman said in an emailed statement. "The idea behind the legislation is simple; if an agency cannot justify the benefit of a regulation, then it has no business being on the books. The intent of this legislation is to reverse the regulatory overreach by the federal government, not to repeal regulations that are critical to the safety of Alaskans."
It's not clear what kind of process Young's bill would require of an agency to justify each regulation over the past 20 years, though the government is already required to follow administrative procedures to create regulations.
"The legislation is not finalized and is still being developed. After the legislation is finalized and introduced, I will be more than happy to get you specifics," said Young spokesman Miller when asked about that.
The proposed legislation appears to be more statement than anything else. Young himself said at the Anchorage Rotary luncheon he knew the chances of getting such a measure through the full Congress were not good, and that the president would veto it.
Among those in the audience for Young's address was Deborah Williams, a Rotarian who is former director of the Alaska Democratic Party and who also was special assistant for Alaska to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton administration.
Williams said after the luncheon that rolling back the regulations to pre-1991 levels would mean repealing rules that require blow-out preventers on deep sea oil wells as well as reversing subsistence hunting and fishing regulations, among many other things.
Williams said regulations are in place to implement the laws that are passed by Congress and that Congress can deal with individual regulations it believes don't reflect the intent of the laws. "Regulations are necessary to implement Congressional legislation," she said. "It would neither be wise or feasible to repeal all regulations in the last 20 years."
Young told the Rotary that people in the U.S. are getting too comfortable, with the nation not producing enough and regulation out of hand.
"We've got to make the public less comfortable and more interested in the benefits that they should be providing because of economic well being for future generations," Young said.
Young, a 78-year-old Republican, has been Alaska's only representative in the U.S. House since 1973. Despite what one Rotary member termed his "radical" idea to eliminate 20 years of government regulation, he started his speech by talking about the need for Congress to become more moderate and less politically partisan.
"You have two extremes to the right and the left trying to run this country and the middle is not being heard. We have to get back to the middle," said Young, who said that the result is inaction by Congress and power being shifted to the executive branch.
"My side of the aisle wants to cut our way into prosperity," he said. "We cannot do that. You can control spending but you cannot cut your way into prosperity. You have to add new dollars to the structure and economic base of this nation."
Young noted there are 85 freshman Republicans in the House. "I'm working with them, trying to bring them to the middle because they're really to the far right, and explain to them that until we work together to solve these problems the president has the power," he said.
Reach Sean Cockerham at email@example.com or 257-4344.