White House claims billions saved in trillion-dollar regulatory framework

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials announced Tuesday that they have identified $800 million in annual regulatory cost savings during the next five years, but business advocates say they face far greater costs from new regulations coming from the Obama administration.

The announcement “appears to be nothing more than a political charade,” said a statement from Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute. Regulatory agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board, “are considering [new] job-killing rules that will increase unemployment and force businesses to close,” he said.

The conservative Heritage Foundation estimated last September that federal rules and restrictions cost Americans some $1.75 trillion each year, up from $1.1 trillion in annual costs reported by a federally funded study in 2005.

The White House’s new five-year estimate of $4 billion in savings is based on a “lookback” of recently changed regulations, and on changes to outmoded regulations, said Cass Sunstein, the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

Agencies have identified another $6 billion in savings from additional regulatory changes following a January directive from the White House, said Sunstein.

The proposed savings include $2.5 billion from rule changes by the Department of Labor, and $4 billion from rule changes by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is already writing new rules to oversee the nation’s health sector. One HHS rule change, Sunstein said, would create a standard set of documents so that doctors could work at several hospitals after completing a single set of paperwork.

The White House document describing these rule changes, said Sunstein, is itself 801 pages long, and includes 500 established or proposed reforms.

Those reforms include 100 from the Department of Transportation, 77 from HHS, 35 from the Environmental Protection Agency, and 41 from the Treasury Department.

“The administration’s findings and determinations, on their own, are a worthy effort at making technical changes to the regulatory process, but the results of this lookback will not have a material impact on the real regulatory burdens facing businesses today,” according to a statement from Bill Kovacs, the senior vice president for regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

For example, the EPA is issuing a series of new regulations “that literally expands its jurisdiction from interstate waterways to almost any body of water in the United States,” says Kovacs.

“If Obama is in any way genuine, he will call on his National Labor Relations Board, National Mediation Board and Department of Labor to stop the assault against small businesses so they can focus on getting our nation’s economy back on a path toward recovery,” Wszolek’s statement added.

“The cost of [new] economically significant rules … was higher in 2007 and 2008, than in 2009 or 2010,” Sunstein argued. Under this administration “there’s a diminution in the cost of finalized rules,” he argued, before insisting that these new regulatory changes are “helpful to job creation.”