Human Events Blog

Obama the Regulator

President Obama published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, in which he announced a new initiative to “require that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health, and environment while promoting economic growth.”

As with everything produced by Obama and his staff, reading the editorial is like wading through thick sludge, and occasionally stepping on sharp rocks.  For instance, the President claims “a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression,” as if banks were a gang of unsupervised children who accidentally set the house on fire during their rambunctious play.  No, Mr. President, Democrats lying through their teeth about Fannie Mae nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets.  I’ll take you seriously about reform and oversight when you’re ready to discuss what you, Barney Frank, and Chris Dodd did to produce the subprime mortgage crisis.

There’s no reason to regard anything Obama says about job creation as anything but hollow and disingenuous rhetoric until he signs the repeal of ObamaCare, the greatest job-killing regulation in modern history.  USA Today just ran a story entitled, “Survivors Of Drilling Moratorium On Gulf Face New Hurdles.”  It’s tough to take the President’s latest “hard pivot” to jobs seriously when the last pivot left a trail of mortally wounded businesses struggling for survival.  Like most of his recent statements, Obama’s new op-ed feels like an attempt to trick America into signing an affadavit saying the last two years of his Administration didn’t happen.

It would also have been nice for Obama to acknowledge that, as Jon Ward of the Daily Caller points out, now-Majority Leader Eric Cantor handed the President a proposal to judge federal regulations by their impact on jobs back in 2009.  The proposal suffered a lot of criticism from Democrats at the time, and the President did nothing except slip it into his back pocket for a year, until the time was right to announce it as his own brilliant idea.

Even if we disregard the hard reality of the President’s actions, and consider only the words he penned for his editorial, his embrace of regulatory restraint is as tentative as a hug given to that grotesque great-aunt you only see at funerals.  His thematic sentence about requiring regulations to “protect our safety, health, and environment while promoting economic growth” is a tissue-thin promise filled with gigantic loopholes.  Does anyone seriously think a job-killing regulation the President likes would not be justified on the grounds of its wondrous protection for safety, health, or the environment? 

Indeed, the bulk of Obama’s editorial is extended pat on the back he gives himself for following this formula already.  The sole example of a regulation which fails his new standard is apparently the EPA’s insistence on treating saccharine as toxic waste – a policy which has clearly reincarnated the orphan-littered streets of Victorian London in our cities.  The author of the greatest government expansion in American history is really sorry the EPA made companies handle saccharine as if it were ebola, but he’s totally jake with EPA regulations that will cap-and-trade us to $5.00 gasoline in a few months.

The simple truth is that virtually every government regulation “kills jobs,” even those not specifically directed at industry.  Every human activity can generate commerce, so regulations which prohibit or inhibit activity cannot help but eliminate opportunities for employment.  Obviously, we judge these things on a sliding scale – we’re not about to legalize murder because the market for hit men is depressed.  We must have some environmental laws, because we don’t want our streets flooded with toxic piles of saccharine.

No proclamation or resolution will “introduce” the concept of measuring the economic impact of government regulations.  This has always been done.  For the past few years, it has been done very badly.  Americans should not be distracted by splashy attempts to hide behind meaningless promises.  Tearing down our worst job-killing regulations would be equivalent to rewinding history to the day Obama took office.  No elegant promises to do better in the future can mask the reality of what has already been done.  


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