White House unveils plans to trim regs, save at least $10 billion

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced plans to streamline hundreds of regulations across all government departments and said that the review will “likely” save at least $10 billion over five years.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), however, called the effort "underwhelming." The regulatory review does not address the kinds of major items the GOP would like to eliminate, such as those associated with the Dodd-Frank financial reform, the Obama healthcare reform or a raft of new environmental regulations, including the possible regulation of greenhouse gases. 

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With the administration struggling to stimulate the economy, it is unclear how much growth will be boosted by the streamlining.

In January, Obama issued an order for all the departments to produce red-tape reduction plans. Tuesday's announcement is the result of that order.

Cass Sunstein, the chief of regulations at the Office of Management and Budget noted the most significant changes, saving some $4 billion over five years, come from the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation. 

An additional $4 billion will come from reducing reporting requirements for health providers and hospitals.

The DOL change will simplify hazard warnings, saving $2.5 billion, while the Transportation Department is relaxing rules on railroads.


The IRS is simplifying and streamlining reporting rules for stock market transactions, an effort the White House says will allow Americans to spend 55 million fewer hours complying with the tax code in 2011. According to current estimates, taxpayers and businesses spend around 6 billion hours a year on tax compliance.

The changes also involve speeding payments to small contractors doing business with the Pentagon, Sunstein said.

“Over the next five years, the monetized savings from just a fraction of the reforms announced today are likely to exceed $10 billion. Perhaps more important, today’s plans explicitly recognize that the regulatory lookback is not a one-time endeavor. Agencies will continue to revisit existing rules, asking whether they should be updated, streamlined or repealed,” he said.

He emphasized that the changes do not compromise public safety or the environment.

Cantor downplayed the announcement. "Every day, business people and job creators cope with burdensome regulations that have a negative impact on both jobs and our economy, and again the President seems reluctant to do everything in his power to help them," he said in a statement. 

Cantor said the House will proceed in September to end major regulations and that doing so will have a greater impact in helping businesses create jobs.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is leading the Senate GOP's fight against regulations, said that the Obama initiative is insufficient given the tide of new rules. 

"Since the start of the year, the administration has proposed more than 340 regulations at a cost of more than $65 billion to job creators. It is important to note that these are only the regulations for which the administration actually conducted an economic analysis. For hundreds more, it has regulated blindly, with no cost or job numbers associated with its rules," he said in an op-ed published in The Washington Times

Responding to the criticism, Sunstein told reporters that $10 billion in savings is very significant.

“If $10 billion is a drop in the bucket, I’d like to have access to that bucket,” he said.

He said that the administration is implementing Dodd-Frank and healthcare reform in a way that is sensitive to costs, and that it is open to public input. He said the January executive order outlined a more robust cost-benefit analysis for new regulations as well as requiring the "lookbacks" announced Tuesday.

Sunstein said the initiative will create jobs, but he declined to say how many could be tied to the lifting of the regulatory burdens.

Business was appreciative of the effort but said it falls short.

“We also applaud the administration for taking the step that Congress first directed in 1980, that federal agencies, including independent agencies ... undertake these regulatory lookbacks,” Bill Kovacs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

He noted that most of the changes involve avoiding duplication, allowing more electronic filing and harmonizing the process with that of other nations.

He noted that the review streamlines how EPA handles waterway regulations, but does not stop EPA from overstepping its authority from regulating interstate waterways to regulating all bodies of water.

“The bottom line is that real regulatory reform would include permit streamlining; requiring transparency in the permitting process so we know exactly which permits are being held up and why; requiring agencies to differentiate between major and minor rules with the agency providing far more factual support for major rules; and finally by mandating that federal agencies apply all the laws Congress passed relating to regulatory reform, including data quality, regulatory flexibility and unfunded mandates,” Kovacs said.

The nonprofit group Public Citizen said Tuesday that it was still examining the specific plans for any threats to safety or the environment, but was worried that Obama's emphasis of reducing regulations was feeding a "narrative" against government action.

"If they the administration has indeed identified rules that don't serve any purpose, then they should be applauded for taking them off, but we do think that the administration's over emphasis on needless rules just reinforces the Chamber of Commerce's narrative of regulation just being damaging to the national economy," Public Citizen's Lisa Gilbert said.


—Last updated at 11:48 a.m.