Regulating the regulators
I occasionally find it difficult to tell whether the Obama administration is doing something because it thinks it needs to be done, doing something because it thinks that it needs to preempt Congress from doing something worse, or both. A good example of this was the federal pay freeze: Did the White House think a federal pay freeze was a good substantive idea, a good political idea, or a good way to keep the Republicans from either cutting federal pay or freezing the number of workers who could be hired? I suspect it was a bit of two and a lot of three, but there's no real way to know.
I'm having a bit of the same feeling with the president's splashy op-ed promising "a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive." That could be the announcement of a major new initiative in the government to prune the out-of-date or overly costly regulations currently sitting on the books. Or it could be a way to preempt ideas like Mark Warner's regulatory paygo scheme or the GOP's plan to force a separate congressional vote "of any new federal regulation that has an annual cost to our economy of $100 million or more."
Without knowing the answer to this question, it's difficult to say what to think of Obama's announcement. If the White House really wants to cut some brush across the regulatory state, then maybe this is the start of something major. If they just want to show they're doing something about the regulatory state to keep Congress from doing something dumb, then it's probably not going to be such a major initiative. And reading the executive order, it's possible that the major part is not the bit that Obama is selling in the op-ed, where old regulations will be reviewed and taken off the books, but the changes to the regulatory process going forward, including the provision saying that new regulations must include a schedule for review and that much more information is posted online.
Whether the White House is doing a good job running the regulatory process gets too little attention. But it's also a hard thing to judge, as there aren't obvious benchmarks for what a "good" regulatory process looks like. This looks good to me, but maybe some of my readers will have more informed perspectives.
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