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Obama’s answer to a GOP Congress.
President Obama already laid down the marker, in early October. His approach to new Republican strength on Capitol Hill, he said, will be nothing but “hand-to-hand combat.” The combat, however, may not take the form of traditional legislative battles. Again and again, news stories in the fall cited Obama officials saying blandly that they will “use executive authority when blocked by Congress.” None of the reports seemed to find these statements remarkable. Yet if officials in the Reagan or Bush administrations had spoken that way, Newsweek would have been warning of “an imperial presidency” and the New York Times would be hyperventilating about a proto-dictatorship. Yet Republican teams’ inclinations run to less regulation rather than more, and the Obama regime favors executive actions far more likely to limit freedom and seriously intrude on daily American life.
Indeed, the Obama team’s disdain for small-r republican norms is breathtaking. Even when enjoying huge Democratic congressional majorities, this president already had pushed rule-by-administrative-fiat to a stunning degree. What awaits, when Obama sees no chance of legislative success, is sure to be an audacious expansion of claimed executive powers — unaccountable, unlimited, and quite arguably unconstitutional. (Whether the courts recognize it as unconstitutional will be a close call, based on how effective Republican senators are at blocking Obama from seeding federal courts with radical leftists.)
It’s not only conservatives who recognize this administration’s aggressiveness. OMB Watch, a respected but decidedly left-leaning nonprofit that tracks regulatory affairs full time, quite approvingly reported this in September: “In stark contrast to the George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration… has been far more active in pursuing its rulemaking responsibilities.” And: “[Environmental Protection Agency] Administrator Lisa Jackson…has set an active agenda.… At the Department of Labor, [there have been] efforts to jumpstart a rulemaking engine….” The NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] engaged in “a minor surge of rulemaking.” And so on.
No wonder an October 26 report by the Heritage Foundation succinctly concluded that “the burden of regulation on Americans increased at an alarming rate in fiscal year 2010. Based on data from the Government Accountability Office, an unprecedented 43 major new regulations were imposed by Washington. And based on reports from government regulators themselves, the total cost of these rules topped $26.5 billion, far more than any other year for which records are available.”
Those costs are just for the new rules. Overall, as Clyde Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reported, “a very rough extrapolation from an evaluation of the federal regulatory enterprise by economist Mark Crain estimates that annual regulatory compliance costs hit $1.187 trillion in 2009.… Regulatory costs are equivalent to 63 percent of all 2007 corporate pretax profits of $1.89 trillion.… Regulatory costs exceed estimated 2009 individual income taxes of $953 billion by 25 percent.” It’s all so overwhelming, in fact that U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue in a recent column called it “a regulatory hurricane.”
Of course, not every regulation is more harmful than helpful, and not every new rule is an abuse of power. But when bureaucrats consistently push to and beyond the outer limits of what Congress might possibly have intended, and when an administration implements by fiat what Congress repeatedly has considered and refused to pass, the collective diminution of freedom becomes alarming.
“THIS ADMINISTRATION is unique in the scope of EPA’s overreach,” said Rosario Palmieri, a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers. “For example, the previous administration finalized a rule on a new ozone standard that was extremely costly. This administration re-opened the rule and decided to make it even more stringent — unnecessarily so — and a new study we’ve commissioned says the new, more stringent ozone rule will cost us 7.3 million jobs by 2020.”
With so many regulatory abuses occurring on so many fronts, it’s hard to pick just a few to focus on. Nevertheless, here are some of the most egregious (some of them by quasi-independent agencies, but controlled by Obama appointees), both already enacted and/or pending:
Oil drilling: This one has been well covered in the wake of the BP oil spill. The moratorium on deep-water drilling, plus the slowdown on drilling permits in all depths of water that continued even after the moratorium was technically lifted, cost Gulf Coast states at least 6,000 direct jobs — a prospect which, by the account of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, was met with utter nonchalance by Obama himself. “He said, governor, if people lose their jobs because of the moratorium, they can file a BP claim.” Asked what would happen if BP wouldn’t pay, Obama reportedly said: “Don’t worry, governor, they can file an unemployment claim.”
Card Check: Democrats failed miserably in legislative attempts to eliminate the secret ballot in union organizing elections, so now the National Labor Relations Board is poised to accomplish the same thing by other means. Called “remote electronic voting,” it effectively would allow union representatives to descend on a worker and “ask” him to use his personal computer or other device to vote in favor of unionizing his workplace. The NLRB didn’t even allow a normal comment period, but just announced its intention to issue the rule while asking for “vendor” or “industry comments only.” Explains Vincent Vernuccio of CEI: “Not only does this circumvent Congress, but it even circumvents the regular notice-and-comment procedures.” (Even worse, remote electronic voting isn’t safe: when the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ran a test of its planned remote electronic voting system for municipal elections, a group of college students promptly hacked into it and caused it to play the University of Michigan fight song every time a vote was cast.)
Ethanol: Even most environmentalists now concede that corn-based ethanol use is probably a net-minus ecologically (not to mention what it does to food prices and availability). Yet in October, the EPA issued a new rule allowing/prompting gasoline companies to use a fuel mix of 15 percent ethanol instead of just 10 percent. As the Wall Street Journal explained, this is horrible on numerous levels: “Ethanol is highly corrosive and can damage engines… [and] is more expensive than gas, gets worse mileage than gas, [and] increases carbon emissions more than gas does.”
Biomass industry: Also along the lines of harming the environment in the name of helping it, EPA is proposing strict emissions limits on boilers at wood-burning plants. The Biomass Power Association complains this would “endanger” the “entire renewable energy industry” — exactly the form of industry environmentalists supposedly favor. Congressional opposition to the EPA proposal has been bipartisan, with 45 Democrats joining 61 Republicans signing a strong letter of protest.
Consumer product “safety”: The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, intended to protect American children from Chinese-made toys with dangerous lead levels, already was a nightmare so over-broad as to force mom-and-pop shops to close, harm charity auctions nationwide (because so many utterly safe products can’t be resold), and even shut down entire product lines of motor-scooter companies (as if children are going to ingest lead from gnawing on a scooter frame!). But the Obamaite Consumer Product Safety Commission has repeatedly adopted rules even more burdensome than Congress or common sense would dictate, creating a compliance nightmare that is weighing down the entire economy like… well, like lead.
Ear “safety”: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration understandably requires that workplaces limit their employees’ subjection to dangerous noise levels. For years, OSHA allowed businesses to use the simple expedient of earplugs or earmuffs to help with this problem. Suddenly, as reported by Keith Smith at the Shopfloor blog, OSHA on October 19 announced new rules that will force employers to “make sweeping changes to their workplaces — introduce new workplace practices and install new equipment — to quiet workplaces even if employees are already protected from loud noises with effective earplugs and the like.”
Immigration: A group of Republican senators were enough concerned about a leaked administration memo to write the president a letter last summer warning against a reported “deferred action or parole for a large illegal alien population.” What the administration definitely has done is reinterpret rules so that federal immigration authorities won’t detain or deport illegals who aren’t guilty of any other crimes. And, as reported by Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, immigrations and Customs Enforcement chief John Morton in August floated a draft policy memo that would prohibit both federal and local officials “from busting illegal aliens who are discovered as a result of traffic violations.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?