The regulatory state is deeply misunderstood. No one denies the importance of federal agencies in formulating the rules that shape the modern economy and civil society. But the regulatory state is not, as its critics maintain, an illegitimate “Fourth Branch” of government, operating on its own. It is, instead, a vital function of government, which is part of the executive branch (though not within the White House), and is subject to numerous constitutional checks and balances.
The most important of these checks and balances is that the regulatory state is an empty vessel until Congress acts to fill it. And Congress has done so since the Founding (think customs officials and military paymasters). Congress turns the spigot on or off based on legislation it wants to be implemented, and the federal agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Social Security Administration, respond (as the many thousands of Federal Register pages attest to).
The above excerpt was originally published in Real Clear Policy.
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