Tampa Bay Times
Op-Ed: Sen. Rick Scott and Tim Phillips
July 31, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented Americans with a vivid lesson in the costs of regulation.

As the crisis escalated in March and April, hand sanitizer disappeared from store shelves. Many distillers were eager to pitch in and shift their facilities from producing liquor to hand sanitizer.

But hundreds of outdated FDA regulations blocked their way. These would-be heroes were barred from helping when families in Florida and across the country needed it most.

Testing, we were told, was key to combatting the coronavirus. But test kits were in short supply, and FDA restrictions prevented many in the private sector from producing tests that would have allowed more individuals to obtain vital information about their health.

Eventually grasping the severity of the crisis, the FDA temporarily waived these pointless restrictions, allowing distillers and test-producers to step up.

But it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did to respond. Thankfully, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has taken the lead on easing the regulatory burden at his agency and has been very responsive to requests from health care professionals and industry leaders.

COVID-19 threw our economy a curve ball no one saw coming. What we learn from it, and how we put that knowledge to use, will help determine the direction of our economy for decades to come.

The primary takeaway should be that we need an economy that is flexible, resilient, and able to shift gears at a moment’s notice to respond to a crisis.

The terrible lesson of the coronavirus pandemic is that institutional inertia caused by the accumulation of decades of unchecked regulatory clutter has made government unable to respond quickly to an emergency of this kind.

We need to begin to clear away the mountain of red tape so we’re better prepared the next time.

The Unnecessary Agency Regulations Reduction Act would ensure that America does not double down on policies that have made us less resilient, less flexible, and less innovative.

Under the bill, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs — a division of the White House Office of Management and Budget — would be required to submit an annual list of questionable and burdensome regulations for Congress for review.

Congress would then have 30 days to review the list and suggest changes. Within 60 days, both houses of Congress would be required to consider a joint resolution addressing the recommended changes.

This would help address the hundreds of restrictions in various sectors that are preventing our economy from recovering following the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

By focusing on clearing the way for individuals and businesses to safely and efficiently deliver goods and services, our economy grows and the entire country benefits.

This isn’t hypothetical. We’ve seen firsthand how it worked in Florida.

Through the 2010s, state policymakers worked together to cut more than 5,200 burdensome regulations, which helped lead to the creation of 1.7 million jobs.

The COVID-19 crisis exposed the tragic reality that, far from being a protector of Americans’ health and safety, outdated regulations were instead getting in the way of doctors, nurses, and medical researchers saving lives.

Now we’re seeing the positive results of temporary waivers of health care regulations at the state and federal levels. Those waivers gave patients more options via telehealth and increased access to care by allowing doctors and nurses to go where they’re most needed.

If these kinds of changes are necessary to meet the challenges presented by a national crisis, all the more reason to clear them out of the way so we can be better prepared for the next one. If clearing away regulatory barriers can work to free health care professionals to save lives, it can work to foster innovation across our economy and improve the life of every American.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican, represents Florida in the U.S. Senate. He was governor from 2011 to 2019. Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity.

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