The cover story in the current issue of the Washington Monthly delves into what sounds like a dull subject — the federal "rule-making" process — and manages to make it exciting. The reporter, Haley Sweetland Edwards, investigates how powerful interests like the financial industry can exert influence over government bureaucrats who write a bill's rules and regulations after it's signed into law.
I called Edwards last week to ask her about the story, including how she became interested in the obscure world of rule-making. She said she realized its importance while talking with a government source off the record:
"He said, 'You know, a law doesn't mean anything until it's written into rules. It's just words on paper.' And suddenly it clicked for me — that we pass these enormous pieces of legislation, and all of us pay such close attention to these laws as they're making their way through the partisan battles and the two houses of Congress .... But then they're laws. They're stamped into the federal code and they don't mean anything until they're written into rules. And then I just became fascinated, because I realized that so many of these rules coming out of [the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act] in particular, but out of so many laws, just get weakened enormously. Laws that we thought we had essentially don't exist. They may be on the books, but they don't change your life or mine."