We all know what the wrecking balls of a second Obama term will be: widespread unemployment, stagnant economic growth, enormous debt. But the consequences don’t stop there.
Believing in activist government means your work is never finished. You pass a new law that you think combats injustice and inefficiency. Then human nature kicks in and, with great disapprobation, you discover that injustice and inefficiency still exist. So you pass another law, then another. And with no Mitt Romney there to stop you, the Circle of Regulatory Life continues.
With Barack Obama back in power, all the laws and rules from his first term will stand. But regulations aren’t just text; they have very real (and often unintended) consequences.
How will the president’s societal tinkering affect our lives over the next four years? From the shocking to the quirky to the bizarre, here are some of the things you might have missed:
More expensive cars
The president’s new rule on vehicle emissions standards requires automakers to increase their fleet averages to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and a whopping 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The National Automobile Dealers Association calculates that this will drive up the price of the average car or light truck by $3,000. Seven million potential consumers will pass on buying a vehicle thanks to the added cost.
One of the deadliest heads on the Obamacare hydra is the medical devices tax, which takes effect next year. The tax amounts to 2.3% on the sale of every device, the equivalent of a 15% tax on profits. It’s a sledgehammer to some of America’s most innovative companies, and the companies are responding accordingly, laying off workers and moving plants overseas. Research and development of new devices, many of them life-saving, are expected to take a hit. A recent report by Pricewaterhousecoopers found that investments in the medical device and equipment sector are at their lowest level since 2004.
Less access to special needs education
This one might sound like demagoguery, but bear with me. Obamacare, for the first time, imposes a limit on Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) in the amount of $2,500. FSAs allow for pre-tax deductions into a separate account which the owner can spend on health care throughout the year. FSAs are popular with parents of special-needs children because the money can be used on tuition for private schools that accommodate the disabled. But $2,500 is nowhere near enough to pay that bill. It’s an effective tax increase on some of the country’s most vulnerable children.
So long, free checking accounts
Back in 2010 when Chris Dodd and Barney Frank were working out how to save the poor from villainous bank tycoons, one of the most popular ideas was a limit on debit card transaction fees. This was eventually codified in the Dodd-Frank law’s Durbin Amendment. Banks had to make up the money from the fee restrictions somehow and free checking accounts ended up on the chopping block. In 2009, 96% of big banks offered free checking. By 2011, only 35% of them did.
More children in apartment complexes
If you’re ever looking for a good laugh (or cry), head on over to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division website. Helmed by Eric Holder’s hyper-litigious Savior of the Universe Thomas Perez, the CRD is constantly crowing about their latest legal triumph over a schoolyard bully or transgender-unfriendly bathroom.
One of their finest moments came when they settled a lawsuit against the owner of a small apartment complex in South Carolina. The landlord took out ads on Yahoo! and the Yellow Pages website touting an age-21-and-up policy. That was all Perez needed to allege discrimination and bring the full power of the federal government to bear against a sixteen-unit apartment building. For the crime of trying to create a mature living atmosphere, the owner was fined $25,000. With Obama sticking around, expect Perez to maintain vigilance against landlords trying to exercise their property rights.
More pregnant prison guards
Another gem from the Civil Rights Division came in 2009 when an Oklahoma sheriff was caught requiring pregnant confinement officers to do deskwork until they had the baby. The DOJ caught wind of this and lawyers were seen parachuting into Bryan County the next day. The complaint was quickly settled; the pregnant women back guarding the jail.
More horses at restaurants
Federal law accommodates the use of guide dogs by the blind, but not the use of horses. This oversight was remedied by a new Justice Department regulation that requires shops and restaurants to admit miniature horses. The micro-mustangs must be accompanied by a blind or disabled person. They also must be housebroken, which many business owners claim is impossible, presenting their soiled floors as proof. But no matter. This is about equality, dammit.
Easier miniature golf games
The worst holes on mini-golf courses are always the ones with the steep slopes. Fortunately the Justice Department is on the case…not to make the game easier, but to accommodate the disabled. As of 2010, at least half of all mini-golf holes must be “48 inches minimum by 60 inches minimum with slopes not steeper than 1:48 at the start of play.” Another non-problem solved.
When you flush a urinal, you’re putting America one step closer to a water crisis. That’s according to the Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products Other Than Automobiles (or ECPCPOTA for short), which is recommending new efficiency standards for urinals, along with faucets, showerheads, and water closets.
No more Roll Your Own tobacco
One of the smoking trends to arise in recent years was Roll Your Own (RYO) tobacco. Customers would purchase the tobacco and insert it into cigarettes sold in a machine in the same store. But thanks to a provision snuck into this year’s transportation bill, RYO tobacco is now taxed at the same steep rate as cigarettes. This makes it impossible for most RYO stores to survive. “[The law is] designed to put these people out of business,” Phil Acordino, president of RYO Machines, told the Huffington Post.
This might be an unfair addition to this list since there’s no evidence Mitt Romney would have sided with smokers either. But it shows just how cavalier the president is about destroying an entire industry with regulation.
It’s going to be a long four years. You know, a smoke would probably help right now. Especially one at a horse-free restaurant.