The White House is pushing the idea that President Obama is a business-friendly regulation cutter. That's about as likely as the works of Ayn Rand showing up in the first lady's book-club reading list.
Nonetheless, administration regulations czar Cass Sunstein insisted Tuesday that "In terms of just the facts, the Obama administration's issued fewer final rules in the first three years than the [George W.] Bush administration did in the first three years." Mr. Sunstein was defending against charges that increased federal red tape has been hampering economic recovery. "In terms of net benefits, we're way ahead," he claimed.
While it is true that the Obama administration has issued fewer "final rules" than the Bush administration over a comparable period, this is a very narrow metric that does not reflect the scope or cost of Obama-era regulations. A closer examination of the data disrupts the White House narrative. Looking at the "significant regulatory actions" as specified by Executive Order 12866 - those that have major impact - the Obama administration has outpaced the Bush team by 35 percent. Obama administration rules also tend to be longer and more complicated.
The scope of federal rule-making is bewildering. More than 700 new final rules have been published this year, and the Regulations.gov website lists 6,156 newly posted dictates of all kinds in the past 90 days. Business owners have no choice but to comply. In January 2011, Mr. Obama issued an executive order seeking to weed out unnecessary or duplicative regulations, and Mr. Sunstein claims this review process has resulted in savings to the economy that "exceeded $91 billion." Unfortunately, in the age of Obama, this is not a lot of money. A study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute found that federal regulations cost consumers $1.2 trillion in 2007. Now the estimate has surged to about $1.7 trillion. It will take more than a few tweaks to stem the regulatory tidal wave.
The election-year drive to portray Mr. Obama as a friend of business ignores the fact that many of the administration's most onerous new rules have been pushed off until after November. Most Obamacare implementation has yet to begin, and the politics of the health care debacle are so bad that Mr. Obama won't even talk about what once was heralded as his "signature legislative achievement." Things would have been even worse had the White House succeeded in enacting other favorite proposals such as "cap-and-trade." Had that been passed, the disruptions and regulatory burdens on the economy would have been incalculable.
Mr. Sunstein is fighting the perception that Mr. Obama is a true believer in pervasive federal micromanagement. He is combating the widespread notion that the White House thinks there is no corner of American society that would not benefit from more regulation, more government minding, more nanny-state meddling. Unfortunately for Mr. Sunstein, all this is true.
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