There’s a new regulatory skeptic in town, and his name is Barack Obama. At least that’s the image the President tried to paint today in a bylined opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. The message was clear: Forget the War on Business. That’s so 2010. Say hello to the War on Regulation.
But is Obama really a born-again regulatory reformer? That, of course, would be good news. After breaking records over the last year in terms of new regulations imposed, a reassessment would be welcome. In his op-ed, the President conceded that sometimes “rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. … We’re also getting rid of absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements,” he pledged, and will be looking at ways to “avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation.”
To help do this, the President announced a new executive order launching a 120-day government-wide review of rules now on the books that have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. Such a review—similar to that undertaken by President George H. W. Bush in 1992 and overseen by Vice President Dan Quayle—would be welcome. But a look at the actual executive order signed by the President this morning indicates that the promising rhetoric has not been matched by real action.
Rather than require agencies to identify harmful regulations during the next 120 days, or even to eliminate unwarranted rules, the order merely requires agencies to submit a “preliminary plan” for reviewing regulations sometime in the future, with the goal of making their regulatory program either less burdensome or “more effective.” And despite promises of transparency elsewhere in the order, the results of any regulatory reviews conducted are required to be released online only “whenever possible.”
Moreover, the initiative is hardly “government-wide,” excluding independent agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
This is a phony war on overregulation. Much more robust steps are needed. Representative Darrell Issa (R–CA) has already taken the first step, surveying businesses and individuals regarding rules in need of reform. And, in an upcoming paper, Heritage research fellow Diane Katz identifies 20 rules that could be repealed immediately.
The President, in his Wall Street Journal piece, dismissed the “heated rhetoric” surrounding the regulatory debate. And this certainly isn’t a partisan issue. After all, no President did more to eliminate outdated regulation than Jimmy Carter, a Democrat. Even Bill Clinton, certainly no deregulator, achieved some significant reforms. But to do that, more than rhetoric is needed, heated or not.
To show that this new initiative is more than talk, President Obama must follow up on his rhetoric with action. He should identify specific regulations in need of reform and require agencies to identify some of their own. He should ask independent agencies to do the do the same and to work with the Office of Management and Budget to assess their impact of their rules. And he should work with Congress to develop legislative reforms to ensure that the tide of regulation can be controlled effectively in the future. Until and unless such specific steps are taken, the President’s words will remain just words.