In a press conference on Wednesday, President Barack Obama promised to boldly go where no President has gone before, taking “unprecedented” steps to cut back the tangle of regulations that are strangling businesses and leading to America’s anemic job growth. It’s certainly a welcome idea, but the only trouble is that despite the President’s claim, his brave new idea isn’t all that unprecedented, and he is, in fact, a big part of the problem.
Government regulation takes a heavy toll on the economy, tying down businesses and preventing them from growing, expanding and creating new jobs. President Obama’s regulators have played a big role in spitting out more red tape—in just two years, they have imposed close to $40 billion in new regulatory costs.
Businesses have loudly complained of those regulations (directly to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, in fact), so it’s no wonder the President made the following proclamation in a desperate attempt to recast himself as a deregulator:
What I have done — and this is unprecedented, by the way; no administration has done this before — is I’ve said to each agency, ‘Don’t just look at current regulations or don’t just look at future regulations, regulations that we’re proposing. Let’s go backwards and look at regulations that are already on the books and if they don’t make sense, let’s get rid of them.”
PolitiFact writes that on September 30, 1993, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12866 calling for a comprehensive review of regulatory policy, using “language that sounds a lot like Obama’s.” And President George H.W. Bush ordered a moratorium and review of all existing regulations. In fact, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report on July 16, 2007, states, “Every president since President Carter has directed agencies to evaluate or reconsider existing regulations.”
The Heritage Foundation’s James Gattuso chimed-in on the PolitiFact report, remarking that Clinton’s order “is still in force, making the Obama directive technically redundant.” Or consider liberal economist Dean Baker’s assessment of the President’s “nonsense claim”:
I would question whether President Obama has done more in re-examining existing regulations than prior presidents, and if he has I would ask why he wasted the resources. Whatever it is called, presidents are always reviewing regulations to eliminate ones that impose unnecessary burdens.”
That’s not so unprecedented now, is it?
It’s not the first time, though, that the Obama White House has attempted to spin straw into gold on the red tape issue. Gattuso writes that regulatory “czar” Cass Sunstein attempted to deflect criticism of Obama’s regulatory machine, claiming that President George W. Bush was worse:
The annual cost of regulations has not increased during the Obama administration. In its last two years, executive agencies in the Bush administration proposed far higher regulatory costs than did those agencies in the Obama administration in our first two years.
Well, that’s not true, either. Gattuso explains that the Bush Administration, which “was no paragon of regulatory restraint” imposed over $60 billion in new regulatory costs during his two terms in office. But that’s nothing compared to Obama’s record on regulations, Gattuso writes: “In just two years, Obama regulators have imposed close to $40 billion in new costs. It took Bush some six years to reach that level. Obama has done it in two.”
Eliminating unnecessary regulation is good policy, and with a mountain of new rules imposed in the realm of health care, banking, the Internet and the environment, the President is well advised to stop feeding the regulatory beast. But he would also be well advised not to make bold proclamations that are blatantly false, especially when he bears responsibility for the problems he claims to be solving.
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