Reg­u­la­tion and Obama’s num­bers game

Pres­i­dent’s rules are fewer, but they pack a harder wal­lop

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By James Gat­tuso and Diane Katz

Sta­tis­tics, they say, is the art of tor­tur­ing num­bers un­til they con­fess. If so, they must have a rack built some­where in the White House. Con­sider how the ad­min­is­tra­tion presents its reg­u­la­tory record. Stung by crit­i­cism that a flood of new reg­u­la­tions is stunt­ing eco­nomic re­cov­ery and job cre­ation, Pres­i­dent Obama de­cided the best strat­egy was to ma­nip­u­late the facts: In his lat­est State of the Union ad­dress, he claimed to have ap­proved “fewer reg­u­la­tions in the first three years of my pres­i­dency than my Re­pub­li­can pre­de­ces­sor did in his.”

Tech­ni­cally, he’s cor­rect. But a less se­lec­tive look at that fact shows that Mr. Obama has im­posed far more bur­dens on the Amer­i­can public than his im­me­di­ate — or per­haps any other — pre­de­ces­sor.

Not that the pres­i­dent hasn’t tried to mas­quer­ade as a reg­u­la­tory re­former. In Jan­uary 2011, Mr. Obama an­nounced with much fan­fare a new get-tough pol­icy on over­reg­u­la­tion. Ac­knowl­edg­ing that “rules have got­ten out of bal­ance” and “have had a chill­ing ef­fect on growth and jobs,” he pledged a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of reg­u­la­tions im­posed by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

But this prom­ise of re­straint has been drowned in the tor­rent of new rules that started in 2009 and has con­tin­ued un­abated. A just-re­leased Her­itage Foun­da­tion study doc­u­ments that the ad­min­is­tra­tion in­creased an­nual reg­u­la­tory costs by $10 bil­lion in 2011. In con­trast, the much-touted reg­u­la­tory-re­lief ef­fort has yielded barely $200 mil­lion in sav­ings.

Over­all, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has is­sued 106 ma­jor reg­u­la­tions in the past three years, with new reg­u­la­tory costs ex­ceed­ing $46 bil­lion. By com­par­i­son, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed 28 ma­jor reg­u­la­tions, adding $8.1 bil­lion in new an­nual costs.

In mak­ing his boast, the pres­i­dent chose his words care­fully. It is tech­ni­cally cor­rect that there have been slightly fewer rule­mak­ings dur­ing the three years of his ad­min­is­tra­tion com­pared with the first three years of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But not all rules are equal. Some have sub­stan­tial im­pact, but the vast ma­jor­ity are rou­tine ac­tions, such as an­nual fish­ing quo­tas and draw­bridge sched­ules. When it comes to “ma­jor” rules — those with an im­pact on the pri­vate sec­tor of $100 mil­lion or more — Mr. Obama has out­reg­u­lated Mr. Bush by 4 to 1 in the num­ber of rules and 5 to 1 in the cost.

These new reg­u­la­tions cover a broad range of ac­tiv­ity, in­clud­ing en­ergy stan­dards for flu­o­res­cent bal­lasts, re­frig­er­a­tors, freez­ers, clothes dry­ers and air con­di­tion­ers; lim­its on au­to­mo­tive emis­sions of “green­house gases”; em­ployer re­quire­ments for post­ing fed­eral la­bor rules; more ex­plicit warn­ings for cig­a­rette pack­ag­ing; health plan el­i­gi­bil­ity stan­dards un­der Mr. Obama’s health care leg­is­la­tion; and higher min­i­mum wages for for­eign work­ers.

Last year, the largest pro­por­tion of reg­u­la­tions — 12 — stemmed from the 2010 Dodd-frank fi­nan­cial-reg­u­la­tion statute, in­clud­ing six from the Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion, five from the Com­mod­ity Fu­tures Trad­ing Com­mis­sion and one from the Fed­eral Re­serve.

Mean­while, rule­mak­ing re­lated to Mr. Obama’s health care leg­is­la­tion en­com­passes more than 150 fed­eral agen­cies. And it ap­pears that the rules are chang­ing faster than reg­u­la­tors can write them. Ad­min­is­tra­tors have granted nearly 2,000 waivers to the new health care reg­u­la­tions, for in­stance, while the long-term care in­sur­ance plan called for in the leg­is­la­tion has been dropped as un­work­able.

More strin­gent en­ergy con­ser­va­tion stan­dards for re­frig­er­a­tors and freez­ers also rank among the most costly reg­u­la­tions of 2011. Im­posed by the Depart­ment of En­ergy, the manda­tory stan­dards will in­crease reg­u­la­tory costs by nearly $1.4 bil­lion an­nu­ally. En­ergy-con­ser­va­tion stan­dards for fur­naces and air con­di­tion­ers will cost an ad­di­tional $650 mil­lion per year, while re­quire­ments for flu­o­res­cent bal­lasts will add $363 mil­lion more in costs an­nu­ally.

Don’t ex­pect this reg­u­la­tory tide to ebb any­time soon. Hun­dreds of new reg­u­la­tions are wind­ing through the rule­mak­ing pipe­line as a con­se­quence of Dodd-frank, Oba­macare and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s glob­al­warm­ing cru­sade.

Ac­tion is sorely needed — by Congress and the White House. No longer should law­mak­ers be al­lowed to evade ac­count­abil­ity by rou­tinely del­e­gat­ing their au­thor­ity to bu­reau­crats. One way to re­store ac­count­abil­ity would be to re­quire the ap­proval of Congress be­fore any ma­jor rule takes ef­fect. And ev­ery ma­jor rule should have an au­to­matic “sunset” date, the bet­ter to pro­tect against the ever-grow­ing col­lec­tion of ob­so­lete reg­u­la­tions. Be­yond the cost, ex­ces­sive reg­u­la­tion is erod­ing lib­erty to an alarm­ing de­gree. Amer­i­cans should de­mand that Washington get off our col­lec­tive back — and re­spect the lim­its that our Con­sti­tu­tion places on gov­ern­ment.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY JOHN CAMEJO

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