The president, in the midst of a re-election campaign, has in recent weeks been frantically trying to counter the impression that his spending policies have led to massive deficits and an unsustainable debt, and that his regulatory priorities have slowed the economic recovery and killed job creation.
Apparently, President Barack Obama is the natural successor of Calvin Coolidge, a guy who was busy slashing spending and regulations from the day he first took office.
First, Mr. Obama and his supporters jumped on an online analysis that claimed the rate of federal budget advances under the current administration is a pittance compared to growth under previous presidents. That analysis relied on creative accounting – to say the least – that blamed much of the responsibility for government expansion during Mr. Obama’s first year in office to the policies of George W. Bush, thus distorting the baseline.
Now, the president has taken to defending his regulatory record. "President Barack Obama boasts that he’s issued fewer rules than George W. Bush, and his officials say regulatory rollbacks are expected to save more than $10 billion," reported Bloomberg News last week.
Cass Sunstein, appointed by Mr. Obama to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has ordered agencies to consider the cost of cumulative regulation when crafting new rules. Savings identified thus far include more than $5 billion from loosened reporting requirements for health care providers, $2.8 billion from changing the labeling and classification of hazardous chemicals, and $1.8 billion from overhauling inspection rules for poultry slaughtering operations.
The Obama administration does deserve credit for issuing fewer rules and setting up a process to weed out unnecessary burdens, acknowledges Susan Dudley, the former top regulator in the Bush administration. Yet those advances pale in comparison to the regulations that come with ObamaCare, not to mention recently issued guidelines on coal-plant mercury emissions and other gaseous emissions from boilers in paper mills and refineries, she adds. Those two measures alone are expected to cost $11.1 billion annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nor does merely delaying implementation of a new regulatory proposal instill much confidence in a business owner who has to base his or her hiring decisions on what regulatory costs are likely to be, two or three years down the pike. And further ratcheting up requirements that electric companies buy ever more of their power from highly inefficient windmills and other "green" boondoggles will drive up energy costs for virtually all industries, everywhere.
Whether a Mitt Romney administration would truly roll back the regulatory state and again unshackle American enterprise remains a matter for debate. But if Mr. Obama is going to cast himself as a champion of smaller government and less regulatory interference with American entrepreneurs, he’s got a very long way to go and a short time to get there.