TheDC Interview: Phil Kerpen on his new book ‘Democracy Denied’

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Phil Kerpen is the author of “Democracy Denied: How Obama is Ignoring You and Bypassing Congress to Radically Transform America — and How to Stop Him.”

Kerpen, who currently serves vice president of Americans for Prosperity, agreed to field some questions about his new book from The Daily Caller:

Why did you decide to write the book? 

I wrote “Democracy Denied” to tie together the work I’ve been doing the past several years on a variety of regulatory issues into a single narrative highlighting how legislative power has drifted from our elected representatives to unelected bureaucrats. The immediate spur to action was a realization after the 2010 election that President Obama fully intended to continue pursuing the precise agenda the American people rejected by other, even less legitimate, means.

How is president Obama, as you write in your subtitle, trying to radically transform America? 

Obama suffers from what the great F.A. Hayek called the fatal conceit: He believes that he and his friends and enlightened experts can determine for hundreds of millions of people how they can best live their lives. Centralized economic control has failed everywhere it has been tried, but somehow he can make it work. This mentality informed efforts to gain centralized control over our country’s energy supply, telecommunications networks, workplaces, our health care, our financial lives and our property rights.

What have been the most egregious examples of the president expanding his power at the expense of Congress? 

The two most egregious, I believe, are the subjects of chapters two and three. The first is Obama’s effort, via [Environmental Protection Agency] regulation, to pursue a cap-and-trade agenda that was a central issue in the 2010 election, costing dozens of Democrats their seats in Congress. The day after the election he said that the cap-and-trade legislation was only “one way of skinning the cat” and proceeded to instruct his EPA to pretend the bill had passed and regulate away. The second is Obama’s effort, via [Federal Communications Commission] regulation — and this is set to take effect November 20 if the Senate fails to act — to regulate broadband Internet for the first time in nearly a decade. In the 2010 election, 95 candidates campaigned on these so-called net neutrality regulations and all 95 lost. So Obama instructed his FCC to go ahead and vote on a 3-to-2, party-line vote to do it anyway.

Do you believe President Obama expanded executive powers more than President Bush did? 

Yes. Obama has continued every abuse of presidential power for which the left criticized Bush, earlier this year going so far as to use a signing statement to ignore Congress’s defunding of specific White House czars. He has also expanded the pattern of unilateral executive and regulatory rule into every area of domestic policy.

Has this regulatory power grab hindered American economic growth? 

Without question. The regulatory onslaught is undermining business confidence and is the principal reason so many companies are sitting on cash instead of investing or hiring. They can’t figure out what a new employee will cost them or what the rules will be. And when each set of rules finally comes out, they are so onerous and expensive that many projects are no longer viable.

Let me play devil’s advocate. Some on the left argued that the 14th Amendment empowered President Obama to bypass Congress in order to raise the debt ceiling, yet the president rejected that argument and opted instead to engage Congress. Why would a president obsessed with exercising executive power and bypassing Congress do that? 

We’ll never know if he would have unilaterally raised the debt ceiling if Congress hadn’t struck a deal, but I think it’s telling that he would even threaten it — something no president had ever done before. The really interesting thing about the resolution of that fight, in the context of the issues I discuss in the book, is that the McConnell gimmick — which ultimately was passed into law — did give the president the power to raise the debt ceiling, subject to a resolution of disapproval that he can veto. A perfect example of the long-running pattern of Congress delegating away its legislative power to try to gain political advantage.

You write in the book how president has used unilateral action to seize control of the financial system. Yet did he not opt against nationalizing American banks after coming into office, as some eminent economists like Nouriel Roubini argued was necessary and the Treasury considered? Why would he reject such an expansion in power? 

I don’t understand Roubini’s eminence, since the crisis he predicted — a dollar rout triggered by the unwinding of our twin deficits — in no way resembled the crisis we actually had. Obama clearly has sympathies toward outright nationalization of the banks, appointing its leading advocate, Elizabeth Warren, as his financial czar to sidestep Senate confirmation while she ran the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Dodd-Frank was short of nationalization, yes, but gives the federal government a tremendous amount of control over the financial system. The CFPB in particular has the broadest and vaguest mandate of any regulatory agency in the federal government, has all power vested in one person rather than a board or commission, and is funded out of the Fed’s seigniorage so that Congress can’t exercise oversight through appropriations.

Who is Lloyd Rogers and why is he the answer to stopping the regulatory problem that you detail in your book?

Lloyd Rogers is a remarkable political activist from Alexandria, Ky. He is 78 years young, with an amazing life story from the orphanage he grew up in to his Navy service to his work as an engineer to his stint in elected office as a county judge in the 1980s and, more recently, as a city councilman. Now he’s just a great activist. In 2009, he brought his congressman, Geoff Davis, a piece of paper with article I, section 1 of the U.S. Constitution on it and a reform idea that became the REINS Act. The bill, which is advancing rapidly in the House, would require Congress to have an up-or-down vote on economically significant regulations before they could take effect. It ends Congress passing the buck to regulators and bureaucrats, and it ends presidents sidestepping Congress and the American people via regulation.

Are there any GOP candidates running for president who you think would weaken executive powers? Are there any GOP candidates who you think would continue to expand executive powers? 

These questions need to be asked and asked repeatedly on the campaign trail. But one of the lessons of the Obama presidency is that even a candidate who campaigns aggressively against abuse of presidential power will sing a different tune once he becomes the president. So voters will need to get the candidates on the record and follow through to hold whoever wins accountable. Herman Cain has publicly committed to signing the REINS Act, and Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul are both co-sponsors.

What three books most shaped your worldview?  

Julian Simon’s “The Ultimate Resource”

F.A. Hayek’s “The Fatal Conceit”

Robert Higgs’s “Crisis and Leviathan”