President Obama moved Tuesday to undercut criticism by conservatives that he will unilaterally impose his agenda through regulation, announcing an executive order making economic growth a required criteria for federal rule-making.
Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately protested that they had proposed such an idea in December 2009, and that the White House had sat on the measure for over a year in order to roll it out at a politically opportune moment.
“Leader Cantor handed this proposal directly to President Obama at the White House in December 2009 as a part of GOP’s ‘No-Cost Jobs Plan,’” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
Cantor’s plan listed as its first major proposal: “Halt Any Proposed Rule or Regulation Expected to Have an Economic Cost, Result in Job Loss, or Have a Disparate Impact on Small Businesses.”
A spokesman for House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, also pointed out that Democrats criticized his move to ask businesses for input on what regulations are strangling growth.
“Inviting businesses to tell us what they want us to do as opposed to protecting the American people certainly gives me great concern,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, the ranking member on Issa’s committee.
Cantor, a few hours after Obama’s executive order had entered the news cycle, issued a statement applauding Obama’s measure but adding that the government “must go further.”
A leading Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, also said the same thing.
“The regulatory framework announced by the White House today is a promising first step to adopt a more rational approach to government oversight, but we can and should go even further,” Warner said in a statement.
Warner revisited a proposal he outlined in December that would agencies to eliminate a regulation for each one they create.
“No one is talking about reducing or removing effective protections of the public’s health and safety, but we need to be able to get rid of the old, stale regulations that inhibit economic growth,” he said.
Nonetheless, Obama’s executive order will at least somewhat blunt the charge that his administration is creating uncertainty for business with a wave of new rules and regulations yet to be written or implemented, primarily through the health care overhaul or the financial regulation bill.
“Where necessary, we won’t shy away from addressing obvious gaps: new safety rules for infant formula; procedures to stop preventable infections in hospitals; efforts to target chronic violators of workplace safety laws,” Obama wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
“But we are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb,” he wrote. “For instance, the FDA has long considered saccharin, the artificial sweetener, safe for people to consume. Yet for years, the EPA made companies treat saccharin like other dangerous chemicals. Well, if it goes in your coffee, it is not hazardous waste. The EPA wisely eliminated this rule last month.”
Obama’s move will not stop Republicans from keeping a close eye on the administration’s regulatory regime, especially since they now control the House and can conduct oversight hearings and choose to withhold funding for agencies or perhaps even for certain types of regulations.
“Our oversight efforts will not only review and cut current regulations, but work to end pending detrimental rules and regulations from going into effect, and ensure that the culture of bureaucracy and big-government rulemaking in Washington is no longer the norm so that people can start getting back to work,” Cantor said in a statement.
And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has made the administration’s regulatory regime a major focus for the next two years, mentioned the health and regulatory reform legislation by name.
“We welcome President Obama’s intention to issue an executive order today restoring balance to government regulations,” said Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donahue.
“While a positive first step, a robust and globally competitive economy requires fundamental reform of our broken regulatory system. Congress should reclaim some of the authority it has delegated to the agencies and implement effective checks and balances on agency power,” he said.
“It also means repealing or replacing outdated or ineffective regulations, ensuring realistic cost-benefit analyses using quality data. No major rule or regulation should be exempted from the review, including the recently enacted health care and financial reform laws.”
Obama did not, in his op-ed, retreat from defending his record so far on regulation.
“Despite a lot of heated rhetoric, our efforts over the past two years to modernize our regulations have led to smarter — and in some cases tougher — rules to protect our health, safety and environment,” he wrote. “Yet according to current estimates of their economic impact, the benefits of these regulations exceed their costs by billions of dollars.”