Between the fiscal cliff and sequestration, bemoaning Washington bureaucracy is almost a cliché these days. Getting a bill signed into law seems like quite a victory, but for major legislation, like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or the Affordable Care Act, getting the president’s signature doesn’t automatically set the entire law in motion.
The process is actually much more complicated, as Haley Sweetland-Edwards, an editor and writer at The Washington Monthly, discovered as she infiltrated the shadowy world of rule-making for her recent article, "He Who Makes the Rules."
Sweetland-Edwards admits that she was under the same impression most of us are about the legislative process. "I thought…the real battles happened in Congress and we all kind of witnessed that and they were passed or weren’t passed and that was it. But really what happens is after those laws are passed and after they are in the Federal Register or the Federal Code, they actually get funneled into the rulemaking agencies that break them down into little itty bitty bite-size pieces and write rules and regulations about them."
What may sound like a benign administrative step is anything but. Sweetland-Edwards notes that because of the powerful rules process, the crowning achievements of President Obama’s first term, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the Affordable Care Act, are in danger of not being implemented at all because the process is tainted by high-powered and highly-connected lobbyists. She notes, "It’s fraught with lobbyists, it's fraught with representatives, with different trade groups, and all over the financial industry." And these lobbying arms are bearing down on every day bureaucrats, who, unlike elected officials, are not experienced in dealing with this pressure.
Our Washington correspondent, Todd Zwillich, is filling in as host all this week. Follow Todd on Twitter for the latest from Capitol Hill.