BLANKLEY: Regulations and rhetoric

President promises to lighten the burden while bureaucrats load up

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Last week, President Obama wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal head- lined “Striking the Right Balance on Regulations,” in which he announced that he had issued an executive order to review all government regulations on a cost-benefit ratio basis. In itself, this is a good idea, although the president makes it explicit that the cost-benefit analysis must take account of intangible “benefits” such as “equity, human dignity, fairness and distributive impacts.” Plenty of leeway there for career regulators and liberal political appointees to justify almost any oppressive regulation they may stumble over.

That’s startling from the same administration that has saddled the American economy and our personal lives with more new legislatively-mandated regulations in the last two years than we have ever experienced in such a short time.

Consider that the president’s enacted health care and financial laws by themselves rigorously increase regulation of more than 25 percent of the entire economy. Health care now embraces about 17 percent of the economy, while finance is about 10 percent. So with those two laws alone, the health and finance industries will be subjected to years of new regulatory oppression. In fact, it will take years just to promulgate and start enforcing those new regulations.

At a less visible level, the administration has been busy re-regulating across the board at a furious rate. For instance, a Weekly Standard article describes a new regulation that has taken most phosphates out of dishwasher detergent. Without sufficient phosphates, dishwashers cannot properly clean dishes, as you may be noticing at home.

No rational person can expect that the new executive order by itself will actually result in significantly fewer regulations. Even a government that fervently believed in deregulation - like the Reagan administration - found it exasperatingly difficult to force the regulatory bureaucracy to even slow down, let alone reverse course. And the Obama administration - whatever orders it may be getting from the top - is filled with political and career staff members who are in favor of ever more regulations.

But what does it say about the seriousness of purpose and steadiness of policy of an administration that first regulates with abandon, then proclaims the opposite policy?

Perhaps a clue can be found in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine article by Peter Baker, which reported: “President Obama gathered his economic team in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room to review themes for his State of the Union address. … The ideas presented to him … seemed familiar and uninspired. “You know, guys,” he said, according to someone in the room, “I’ve told you before, I want you to come to me with ideas that excite me.” Nothing he was hearing excited him.

Well, excitement is nice. But other than the absence of correct free-market policies, what is holding back the American economy more than any factor is the uncertainty of economic, legislative and regulatory policies being driven by the current administration.

One could say of the current United States government what Winston Churchill once said of the 1930s British government about its inconstancy. He charged on the floor of the House of Commons: “So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”

What can the GOP and conservative voters across the country do about an administration that ranges between wrongheadedness and inconstancy? We need to be a polestar of right-headedness and constancy.

Regarding the vastly damaging economic and deeply annoying personal effect of excessive regulation, we need to take advantage of this momentary diversion of the administration toward at least rhetorical common sense. At the congressional level, as has been promised by new GOP committee chairmen such as Fred Upton at the key House Energy and Commerce Committee, we must identify, publicize and repeal as many oppressive regulations as possible.

This will require the Appropriations Committee to explicitly defund the enforcement of such regulations. And yes, unless the president genuinely follows through with his asserted intentions to rein in regulations, this will mean confrontation between the Republican House and the administration. But the GOP Congress must stand firm.

To help, the conservative media and think tanks need to bring much more focus on abusive regulations. The administration and liberals generally are delighted to let the re-regulation of America continue under the radar.

What we need on our side for fighting regulations is something like L. Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center acting as both a researcher and clearinghouse to effectively monitor and publicize liberal media excesses.

Many conservative think tanks do a good job of studying government regulation, but we desperately need big private funding to gather all that research and focus it in ways easily accessible to the media, Congress and the public.

With the right resources and attention, 2011 could be a banner year for the deregulation of American life.

Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.

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