Obama's sleight of hand on regulation 

Earlier this week, President Obama announced a new push to eliminate wasteful, unnecessary and outdated federal regulations. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he gave as his chief example a low-hanging piece of fruit: Saccharin, which millions consume daily in their coffee, has long been categorized as a dangerous chemical by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This costly EPA rule has now been amended.

As wonderful as that sounds, we suspect it is motivated less by a desire to ease regulation than by the need of a stridently anti-business administration to mollify corporate interests and business donors in a difficult election cycle. In Obama's first two years in office, he showed no signs of concern about the number of costly regulations being issued by federal regulators. He set new records for both the number of major regulations issued (43) and their added annual net burden on the economy (conservatively estimated by the regulators themselves at $26.5 billion). None of these will be revisited or revised by Obama's initiative. James Gattuso and Diane Katz of the Heritage Foundation, who analyzed the new regulations in detail, predict that the real costs of Obama's regulations so far are probably much higher than the government estimates.

President George W. Bush's entire eight-year presidency added a net $70 billion to the existing $1.1 trillion burden placed on businesses by the 150,000-plus-page Code of Federal Regulations. At Obama's current pace, he would add $212 billion in eight years. And unfortunately, Obama will not keep his current pace; he will accelerate it despite his much-touted executive order. Last year's health care and financial reform bills will unleash a torrent of new regulations, making 2011 another record-breaking year. Obama has already issued new and burdensome regulations governing everything from runoff water at construction sites to lead paint to toy testing.

Let's not forget that in 2009 Obama's Food and Drug Administration very nearly killed off the Gulf oyster industry by banning the serving of raw oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico from April to October. The FDA's justification for ruining the enjoyment of millions of oyster lovers? Fifteen people with serious medical conditions die each year, nearly always because they ignore warning labels and doctors' orders and eat raw oysters anyway. That regulation was only prevented because a bipartisan group in Congress threatened to slash the FDA's funding if the proposed rule was implemented. So we feel there are ample grounds to doubt Obama's conversion. There are many actions he could quickly take that would demonstrate a seriousness about regulatory relief, such as declaring a freeze on all new regulatory activity mandated by Obamacare, pending the outcome of the current debate in Congress on repealing and replacing the program. Doing that would be far more convincing than public relations stunts like his op-ed earlier this week in The Wall Street Journal.

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