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Federal Regulators Have Too Much Power

For a great example of how federal regulators have too much power, see the case J. Dudley Butler v. American Cattle and Beef Industry.  This is not a real case, but it is a real controversy and battle between the industry and Butler, the individual at the U.S. Department of Agriculture tasked with overseeing regulations on grain, packers and stockyards.  This is a classic case of putting the Fox in charge of the Hen-house.

Former Congressman Bob Barr wrote for The Hill today an excellent piece titled “Federal beef boss proposes self-serving changes to rules.”  In that piece, Barr argues that Butler is not a disinterested referee in the dispute between the industry and consumers.

J. Dudley Butler is the administrator of GIPSA. Butler’s pre-administration career consisted largely of suing the poultry industry as a trial lawyer in the Canton, Miss., firm known as the “Butler Farms and Ranch Law Group.” Since becoming head of this enforcement arm of the Agriculture Department in mid-2009, Butler has moved aggressively to court small, independent producers, many of whom are active in groups such as the Organization for Competitive Markets and other liberal-leaning cattle organization he helped form or in which he was an active member.  

First of all, as a son of a trial lawyer and a lawyer myself, I have nothing against the trial lawyer bar.  Many conservatives disdain at trial lawyers as much as Keith Olbermann despises the Tea Party movement (if it is possible for anybody to have as much hate and rage as Olbermann has against conservatives).  Trial lawyers do serve a very important purpose in society to protect those who are harmed.  Yes, they tend to sue a bit too much and raise the cost of production for average Americans, but, with proper restraint and legal boundaries, the trial lawyer bar should be able to peacefully coexist with free market capitalism. 

The problem in this specific situation is that this trial lawyer, J. Dudley Butler, has spent a portion of his professional life suing the same industry that he is tasked to regulate by the Obama Administration.  This situation screams of a conflict of interest. 

Barr points out that administrative bureaucrats are abusing authority to expand the scope of existing law without the consent of Congress.

Butler is actively pushing to expand the scope of the decades-old Packers and Stockyards Act — which will make it easier for trial lawyers (such as Mr. Butler) to successfully sue meat and poultry companies.  This heavy-handed attempt to push through new federal regulations without seeking Congressional approval has gotten him in hot water.

This situation is not unique to the Department of Agriculture.  For-Profit educational institutions are under assault by bureaucrats at the Department of Education.  Bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency want to regulate so called Climate Change without Congressional approval.

Furthermore, Barr points out that Members of Congress are angry with this regulatory overreach.

Earlier this month, for example, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, and some 100 of his colleagues in both major parties wrote Butler’s boss, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, complaining about Butler’s precipitous move to accomplish by regulation certain amendments to the Packers and Stockyards Act that the Congress expressly rejected in 2008 when it passed the last major Farm Bill. The congressmen expressed the fears of many livestock and poultry producers and processors in urging Vilsack to rein in his GIPSA chief. In their view, the proposed GIPSA rules are too “sweeping” in their scope, and would have major negative consequences for the beef industry, to be proposed without first conducting a “thorough economic analysis.”

I don’t know J. Dudley Butler and he may be a good guy, but there are two problems with his tenure over at the Department of Agriculture – perceived bias and evidence of actual bias.  Putting a trial lawyer who made a living out of suing the industry would leave a reasonable person with the impression that Butler is not the best person to be appointed to the position of industry regulator.  Second, the evidence that Butler has taken actions to make it easier to sue the industry, shows that Butler has taken actions that will benefit his former colleagues in the trial lawyer bar.  Butler should cease and desist from his actions to enrich his fomer trial lawyer buddies.  The burden of the evidence shows that Bulter is responsible for biased actions against head of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).

This is yet another example of a growing trend where administrative bureaucrats are trying to take over the role of legislators.  Bureaucrats in multiple agencies and departments are trying to legislate from the relative obscurity of the vast unelected bureaucracies in Washington, D.C.  This trend needs to end.

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