President Obama is moving to complete scores of regulations as he looks to cement key parts of his legacy in the face of a Republican-controlled Congress openly hostile to many of his top priorities.
The White House quietly released its formal rulemaking schedule late last week, revealing the administration’s latest plans for regulations currently in the works at agencies across the federal government. The fall Unified Agenda suggests Obama has no intentions of slowing down the process during his final year in office.
The document sets 2015 and 2016 deadlines for major rules on everything from food safety and drones to electronic cigarettes and workers’ exposure to harmful silica dust.
Nearly seven years after he took office, the president is running out of time to implement important environmental regulations and financial reforms, not to mention bread-and-butter health and safety protections, said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen.
"A lot stem from laws the president signed in his first term," he said.
Those left unfinished when Obama leaves office in January of 2017 could easily be scrapped by a Republican successor, while getting rid of a rule already on the books is a much more painstaking process.
But the most significant and complex rules can take years to draft and implement.
For instance, financial regulators are working to finish a series of rules required by the 2010, Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law enacted in response to the economic crisis of 2008.
Among them is the final version of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “pay for performance” rule, which will force companies to compare top executive pay with overall company performance. That regulation is scheduled to be released in October, along with a rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their hedging policies.
Beyond financial reforms, the administration plans to wrap up the last two of seven new major rules to come from the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, which called for the first overhaul of the nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years.
By the end of this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is scheduled to release a final rule requiring importers to verify that foreign suppliers are meeting U.S. safety standards, and a rule to establish a program for the accrediting of third-party auditors that conduct food safety reviews.
“In the past, we’ve seen some agenda dates that have been more aspirational than realistic,” Narang said of the regulatory roadmap. “I think now that’s less so the case. I think the administration is going to hold fast to these timelines and definitely there will be increasing pressure to finalize these rules before the end of the term.”
Advocates for stronger healthy and safety protections say there’s no time for further delays.
Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s safety and health director, said rules that are enacted too close to the end of an administration face the threat of the Congressional Review Act, a tool Republicans could use to undo regulations finalized in the final weeks of Obama’s tenure.
“I hope the administration is aware they are running out of time,” Seminario said. “If they want to get these final rules in place and in effect before the end of the administration and protected from political interference from Congress, they need to move forward.”
Critics, however, say the President has already issued far too many burdensome regulations.
“The American economy has just said ‘Uncle, please quit,’” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum (AAF).
The center-right policy group said the administration has finalized about one rule a day since Obama took office and estimates the compliance costs associated with those rules to total about $700 billion. Holtz-Eakin said Obama’s regulatory impact could be even more damaging in the coming years if the president accelerates the rulemaking process now.
“He has used the rulemaking authority to implement his policy agenda, presidents do that, but he has done it to a greater degree than anyone else,” said Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
Since a number of Obama’s actions have been challenged in court, including parts of his signature healthcare law, his actions on immigration and his clean power plan, Holtz-Eakin expects the trend to continue well after the president leaves office.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. rule and Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) federal rules for net neutrality are two other rules the courts will likely be left to decide.
While the National Association of Manufacturers said it’s waiting for a number of final rules including a highly criticized rule requiring contractors to disclose labor law violations when procuring contracts —the group is hoping the agencies give each rule the appropriate time needed to weigh the costs and benefits.
“Every official in an agency that cares about the work they are doing will have a natural instinct to try and complete it before they know who the new boss is,” said Rosario Palmieri, NAM’s vice president of infrastructure, legal and regulatory policy.
“We think it’s important we do not rush rules that require more analysis or would be better, or more effective, or potentially less burdensome if they were thought through and analyzed in an appropriate way and given the appropriate time.”
Obama plans aggressive regs push in final year
By Lydia Wheeler - 11/26/15 06:00 AM EST