By Kevin Bogardus and Rachel Leven - 09/23/11 02:29 PM EDT
Despite drawing back on about a half-dozen major rules this year, the Obama administration is under assault from all sides on the regulatory front.
Critics in the business community are still lobbying hard against a slew of proposed regulations and say the White House’s efforts barely scratch the surface of the red tape that they believe is holding back the economy.
And perhaps most troubling for 2012's election year, Obama's supporters on the left and in labor feel the president has betrayed his promises and caved to Washington's powerful interest groups.
President Obama signed an executive order in January that called for a government-wide review of burdensome regulations. Since then, significant rules have been withdrawn, slowed or sent back for re-proposal — most notably an EPA smog regulation, which was scuttled earlier this month.
The push against regulations by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is not helping Obama with his liberal base, and his attempt to win over the business constituency — namely, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — is making his government less effective, according to Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform.
“The executive order is a kind of window dressing for making decisions to placate industry and House Republicans,” Steinzor, also a University of Maryland law professor, told The Hill. “It’s a political decision. It’s not a decision made based on … objective standards.”
The order hasn’t stopped attacks from Capitol Hill, where the Republican House has made trimming Obama’s regulatory power a centerpiece of its job-creation agenda. The House could vote on legislation this week that would block regulations being proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
On Thursday, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) joined Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to introduce legislation in both chambers that would slow down the regulatory process, require agencies to choose rules that are more cost-effective and hold more hearings on costly proposals.
Portman, an OMB director under President George W. Bush, credited Obama with slowing down some regulations but said there’s nothing to stop them from returning.
“It’s good that they slowed down on some of them. It comes, frankly, I think, from the pressure they have received from Congress and many in the private sector who have been alarmed by the increase in regulations,” Portman said.
“The fact is there are more and more regulations and more and more burdens being placed despite the fact that some of the rules that have gotten more public notice have been pulled back for further review. They haven’t been stopped. These regulations still work their way through the system.”
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, said he wished the bipartisan legislation went even further.
“Put me in the camp that this doesn’t go far enough,” Peterson said.
Obama’s EPA has seen a number of its proposed rules run into trouble. OMB sent back a regulation on ozone standards, and EPA itself delayed a rule that would have cut back pollution from industrial boilers and another on pollution from construction sites.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, meanwhile, pulled back a regulation that would have strengthened its workplace noise standard and another that would have restored a column on employer injury and illness logs to record workers’ musculoskeletal disorders.
And on Monday, the Labor Department withdrew a regulation that would have broadened the definition of “fiduciary” to cover more investment advisers. Labor plans to repropose the rule early next week.
“At best, the administration may have shaved off the tip of the iceberg, but there is still a heck of a lot left,” said Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits.
The Chamber and others have not eased up on lobbying against the Labor Department’s proposed “persuader” rule, which would expand pay disclosure requirements for consultants who advise businesses on how to stop their workers from forming a union.
Meg Reilly, an OMB spokesman, said the administration’s regulatory review is “ongoing” and that “new suggestions will always be given consideration and can help inform the process.”
“Effective regulations produce benefits in the form of savings for businesses, predictability in the marketplace, clean air and water, workplace safety, safe food, and consumer protections,” Reilly said. “This administration’s record demonstrates that a smart regulatory approach can minimize burdens on small business without compromising these basic protections that Americans have always relied on government for.”
But supporters of strong regulations say that federal agencies have grown hesitant to finalize new rules due to the political firestorm they might raise and the lack of support from the White House.
“We have seen everything slow down,” said Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s director of safety and health. “It's not just the OMB. There is definitely an involvement of the political staff of the White House in the rulemaking decisions.”
Seminario said key proposed rules, if they have not been pulled back, are now just sitting at agencies waiting for more action.
“They are just not looking at it through the economic but the political lens as well, and they are failing to look at the benefits of these rules,” Seminario said.