- - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Power players in Washington, D.C., are out of touch. That’s what disgusted Americans tell the pollsters. What makes it worse is how often they’re also out of reach of the voters.

Yet to hear them tell it, untouchables like the Environmental Protection Agency are actually our BFFs — either Best Friends Forever or Bureaucrats Forever Fining us.

Disapproval of President Obama overwhelms his approval ratings, and Congress has to battle with cockroaches to see which of them is more disliked. Gallup reports the majority of us have been dissatisfied with the direction of the country in every poll since 2004, usually by overwhelming margins such as today’s 76 percent.

Rather than being propelled by this into action, millions of Americans figure it does no good to get involved. What’s the use when Washington’s power players are out of reach by the voters, including:

Non-elected bureaucrats

Non-elected judges

A president immune from voters he will never face again

Re-election rates for Congress that hover around 90 percent

A stealthy problem is that a lame-duck President Obama feels free to unleash the millions of executive branch bureaucrats, led by his hand-picked Cabinet secretaries, agency heads and an army of manipulative communications directors.

Let’s focus just on that bureaucracy.

National Journal reported during Mr. Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign: “Federal agencies are sitting on a pile of major health, environmental, and financial regulations that lobbyists, congressional staffers, and former administration officials say are being held back to avoid providing ammunition to Mitt Romney and other Republican critics.”

Now that regulations have resumed, White House tactics have changed to continue concealing the draconian impacts from the public. There is delay in revealing the worst abuses of power until after congressional elections this fall, but less than the presidential election delay. Most infamously, Mr. Obama’s expected plan to legalize 5 million illegal immigrants has been shifted from a Labor Day announcement, in hopes of insulating his fellow Democrats from voters’ wrath in November.

Another favorite tactic is to claim fewer regulations or executive orders have been issued. That ignores the simple truth that not all regulations have equal impact nor can impact be accurately measured by page count. Just as a $100 bill is the same size and color as a $1 bill doesn’t make them equal.

Regulators are notorious for calculating supposed benefits by using worse math than those who consider lottery tickets a good investment.

A Mercatus Institute study takes to task a new projection from Mr. Obama’s Office of Management and Budget that claims $863 billion in annual public benefits from 116 regulations issued during Mr. Obama’s time in office. But it’s a tunnel-vision view, because 37,022 regulations have been issued, and OMB reviewed just over 3,000 of them and then cites only 116 in its report.

The Mercatus study notes: “It is difficult to take the figures about benefits and costs seriously when such a tiny fraction of rules are included.”

According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, actual annual costs of federal regulations are $1.8 trillion a year: An “average of $14,974 per household — 23 percent of the average household income of $65,596 and 29 percent of the expenditure budget of $51,442. This exceeds every item in the household budget except housing — more than health care, food, transportation, entertainment, apparel, services, and savings.”

But the White House estimates costs are just $57 billion to $84 billion. They accomplish this by simply ignoring tons of information.

The shakiness of officially claiming $863 billion of benefits is that it’s actually the upper end of a range: OMB reports the benefits might be just $217 billion, or somewhere between those two numbers — a gap of “only” $646-billion. Almost all the claimed benefits (80 percent) come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s claim that its clean air regulations save lives, valued at $7 million each. So by claiming to save 100,000 lives, EPA calculates a $700 billion annual benefit to taxpayers. But it refuses to provide Congress with its “scientific studies” that supposedly back up this claim.

OMB’s glowing and self-serving claims are also based on considering less than one-third of one percent of actual regulations, as cherry-picked by OMB. Glaring omissions include multiple Obamacare regulations and those issued under Dodd-Frank’s financial controls. OMB tries to justify omissions by saying it ignores edicts from so-called independent agencies.

Costs of Obamacare regulations exceed the benefits by two-and-a-half times, according to the American Action Forum, which also estimates annual regulatory costs of Dodd-Frank at $21 billion a year — with only one-fourth of its regulations issued so far.

Also ignored are what the Daily Caller calls “a secret 2012 decision by the Treasury Department to confiscate the profits of the mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac” and IRS “adjustments” to tax laws to give an extra $12 billion in subsidies for wind energy producers. And OMB ignores how the National Labor Relations Board is trying to administratively change laws to impose unionization on more businesses, a gift to labor bosses aimed at blunting the decades of shrinking union membership outside of the government workforce.

This is but a snapshot of how Mr. Obama wields power through the executive branch. Only rarely is an actual executive order involved. Most of what the media inaccurately label as executive orders technically are not in that category even though they are edicts that originate in the White House. So while Mr. Obama brags that formal “executive orders” are declining, it’s his orders to the bureaucrats that hit our economy hard.

It takes Herculean efforts by Congress to end bureaucratic abuse, and meantime Mr. Obama’s people keep on regulating.

Ernest Istook is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Listen online to his daily talk-radio show at KZLSam.com, noon to 3 p.m. Eastern. Get his free email newsletter by signing up at eepurl.com/JPojD.

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