Just words? Obama on a “21st Century regulatory” regime
President Obama has an op/ed in the Wall Street Journal (a carefully chosen venue to project a “pro-business” lean, I’m sure) in which he touts an Executive Order he is signing which orders a review of all federal regulation ostensibly to bring them inline with today’s realities and help root out those which stifle job creation.
On the surface, nothing at all objectionable in the premise. Obama claims the purpose of the effort is to ensure that what regulation is kept represents “common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.”
Fine and dandy. I’d love to see that applied to the letter. I just have no real confidence that this is anything other than show (a visible move toward the center) or that bureaucracies will pay it any attention. Of course that’s something we’ll have to see and monitor.
But … again, backing government out of much of the present regulatory regime (“unduly interfering” in Obama’s words) would indeed be a help.
More on the stated premise:
But creating a 21st-century regulatory system is about more than which rules to add and which rules to subtract. As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs. This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens. It means using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices. And it means making sure the government does more of its work online, just like companies are doing.
Again, wonderful words (“more affordable, less intrusive” and more choice instead of “restricting those choices”) in an op/ed, but I have to say despite Obama’s claim this has been the aim of his administration the last two years, I’d dispute that. Look at the route the EPA is taking right now in terms of trying to impose a regulatory regime on greenhouse gases. Or how the Interior Department has unilaterally blocked oil and gas exploration.
Certainly simplifying the regulatory regime, removing conflicting and overlapping rules, eliminating redundant reporting requirements and moving much of what can be done on-line to that venue would help. But while that may make things more understandable and less onerous to do, it doesn’t really mean that intrusive regulation is going to go away or even be lessened.
We’re back to how you define such regulation and what level of intrusiveness you believe is too much. There’s no doubt that the Obama administration believes in a level of intrusion far greater than do most on the right. An example of the difference can be found in the article itself:
One important example of this overall approach is the fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. When I took office, the country faced years of litigation and confusion because of conflicting rules set by Congress, federal regulators and states.
The EPA and the Department of Transportation worked with auto makers, labor unions, states like California, and environmental advocates this past spring to turn a tangle of rules into one aggressive new standard. It was a victory for car companies that wanted regulatory certainty; for consumers who will pay less at the pump; for our security, as we save 1.8 billion barrels of oil; and for the environment as we reduce pollution.
Of course on the other side of that are those saying “since when is it a function of government to decide what gas mileage a car must get?” The entire premise that it is a function of government is built on belief in a “justified” level of intrusion far beyond that which any Constitutional scholar would or could objectively support (that’s assuming he is a scholar and an honest one). In fact the example perfectly states the obvious difference between big government advocates and small government advocates. BGA’s think it is government’s job to dictate such things – that it is a function of government to do so. SGAs believe it is the market’s job to dictate such things and that government shouldn’t be involved in these sorts of things.
So in essence, while the Obama op/ed has all the proper buzz words to attempt to sell it as a pro-business, small government move, it is in fact simply a restatement of an old premise that essentially says “government belongs in the areas it is now, we just need to clean it up a little”.
This really isn’t about backing off, it’s about cleaning up. It isn’t about letting the market work, it’s about hopefully making government work better. And while Obama claims to want to inform us about our choices rather than restricting them, I’ll still be unable to buy a car that doesn’t meet government standards on gas mileage even if I want one.
Now that may not seem like something most of us would want – few if any of us want bad gas mileage and the cost it brings – but it does illustrate the point that government regulation really isn’t about providing choice at all, it is and always will be about limiting them. And all the smooth talking in the world doesn’t change that. It’s the nature of the beast.
So when you hear wonderful things like this…
Our economy is not a zero-sum game. Regulations do have costs; often, as a country, we have to make tough decisions about whether those costs are necessary. But what is clear is that we can strike the right balance. We can make our economy stronger and more competitive, while meeting our fundamental responsibilities to one another.
…just remember the reality of regulation and understand that all the great sounding words you hear coming from the administration about regulatory overhaul are most likely based on a completely different premise than the right has. And as all of us have learned from the 2 years in which this administration has been in power, never, ever, ever just go by what they say they’re going to do. Always judge them on what they actually do, because rarely do they ever do what they say in speeches or op/eds like this.