President Obama claims in this morning’s Wall Street Journal to want to reduce the regulatory burden on American business, and so has ordered a review:
This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.
I can remember hearing this sort of thing from every President since Jimmy Carter. You’ll note that the government is now considerably larger, more restrictive, and more intrusive than it was 35 years ago. Their failure is, in part, explainable by the nature of bureaucracy. Agencies fight interminable turf wars, and any attempt to systematically get them to play well together is doomed to failure. The FCC, for instance, insists on trying to regulate the Internet even in the face of specific Supreme Court decisions denying them the authority. Imagine how much more combative they are when the only opponents are other bureaucrats.
Philip Howard in his classic, The Death of Common Sense, notes how the USDA requires floors in certain food operations to be clean, while OSHA requires them to be dry. Good luck with that one.
The EPA has become a mini super-government unto itself, its authority reinforced by the automatic standing that many professional environmental lobbying groups have to bring suit on behalf of, “the environment.” Aside from trying to limit our breathing, ot currently is preventing the Border Patrol from patrolling parts of the border, meaning it’s exercising control not only over every aspect of manufacturing, it’s arrogating the right to regulate other federal agencies.
The FDA has tried, and will no doubt try again, to use price as a measure for approving medicine. As the president professes to be worried about medical innovation.
Of course, regulation isn’t even the major retardant of economic growth – government spending is. Obamacare amounts to a gigantic increase in the percentage of GDP explicitly devoted to government spending. The so-called stimulus hasn’t even been spent yet, largely because the same government didn’t know that there was no such thing as a “shovel-ready” project.
Coming after a miserable electoral repudiation of his policies, Obama’s comments recall President Clinton’s 1995 State of the Union Address. Realizing that he wouldn’t be able to push through large pieces of legislation, he famously declared that “the era of big government is over,” and embarked on a program of increasing regulation. Obama realizes much the same thing, but also recognizes that it will take years for bureaucracies, new and old, to absorb their new powers under Health Care reform, financial regulatory reform, and his expansive readings of executive authority.
Either Obama realizes this, and knows that he can give the appearance of understanding the problem without really giving substantive ground, or he doesn’t really understand the problem.
The subhead on his oped reads, “If the FDA deems saccharin safe enough for coffee, then the EPA should not treat it as hazardous waste.” Maybe we can get him to do the same thing with carbon dioxide.