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Charles Dharapak | AP file photo Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference in Washington, June 13, 2013.
Editorial: Sen. Lee right about convention, wrong about rules

Lee’s cure worse than the disease.

First Published Aug 22 2014 04:44 pm • Last Updated Aug 24 2014 12:11 pm

Sen. Mike Lee, whose fingerprints are all over the disgraceful government shutdown, knows better than most how little Congress is able to accomplish. Now he wants to make sure that other parts of the federal government are just as big a waste as the legislative branch is.

On the bright side, meanwhile, Utah’s junior senator made it clear at his own anti-regulation powwow in Salt Lake City Thursday that he is not a total tea party lemming.

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He opposes, correctly, the idea that the states should call a new constitutional convention to mandate balanced federal budgets or other right-wing articles of faith. Not because he grasps the fact that a constitutionally mandated end to deficit spending is a sure recipe for global financial collapse — he doesn’t — but because he respects the amendment process that has been used successfully for more than two centuries. The one where proposed amendments make their way through Congress and go to the states for ratification.

Lee correctly worries that a new constitutional convention — lacking the moderating and compromising genius of the original authors — would run a serious risk of tossing off all kinds of ideologically charged and damaging ideas.

Speaking of which. Lee’s proposed solution to his belief that the federal bureaucracy exists mostly to torment the American people as they go about their lives and businesses is clearly a cure that is worse than the disease.

Not that bureaucracies at all levels can’t be genuine pains. The federal rule-making apparatus, particularly, has the thankless task of taking compromised, vague and ideologically inspired acts of Congress and trying to turn them into actions and procedures that really serve and protect the American people.

Often, as Lee argues, they fail. Often, as Lee argues, it is because members of Congress are happy to take credit for an idea that sounds good on paper, or in a campaign sound bite, and happier still to blame the bureaucrats when actual practice doesn’t live up to pie in the sky legislating.

His proposed solution, however, is a really bad idea. Lee would make both house of Congress ratify every new federal rule with at least a $100 million impact on the economy.

That’s a plan that would ensure that few, if any, new rules would be adopted. Even, or especially, rules opposed by those who would steal from our financial institutions, pollute our air and otherwise make private profit at public expense.

Congress has the power to amend laws that are being poorly, even stupidly, implemented by the executive branch. That power should be used more often. Lee’s proposal should be used not at all.

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