Overshadowed by issues such as the war in Iraq, terrorism and the economy, federal regulation has been discussed little, if at all, by the candidates in the presidential election taking place today.
But tucked into the candidates' position papers and Web sites are indications about the role regulation would play in a second Bush or a new Kerry administration. Their views in many cases are polar opposites. Bush, for instance, allowed snowmobiles in Yellowstone; Kerry would phase out their use in the park.
President Bush addresses regulation as part of his "Plan for Creating Opportunity for America's Workers," which can be found on the Bush-Cheney Web site. Bush promises to reduce the regulatory "burden" by continuing to insist on good science and economics; making sure new rules are flexible and don't harm small business; and streamlining existing rules and paperwork requirements. He advocates tax credits and market incentives to address energy needs and environmental challenges.
On Sen. John F. Kerry's Web site, it's harder to discern the candidate's overall philosophy of regulation. But past votes in the Senate and positions he has taken on domestic issues indicate he would use the regulatory tools available to him more often.
Kerry, regulatory analysts expect, would act to prevent risks when it comes to issues like the environment and workplace safety. The Massachusetts Democrat has indicated, for example, that he would push more funding for the Superfund program to clean up polluted industrial sites. He promises to reverse the recent rule determining eligibility for overtime, push for deep reductions in mercury emissions, increase fuel-efficiency standards and institute a mandatory federal standard to prevent repetitive-motion injuries on the job.
"He understands you don't need to over-regulate, but he believes in basic protections. There is a role for government. He'll get everyone to the table and find the right balance," said Sarah Bianchi, policy director for the Kerry campaign.
President Bush, on the other hand, promises more of the same: cutting back on new rules and eliminating "ineffective" regulation.
Chad Kolton, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said in an e-mail that the Bush administration has reduced "the growth of costly new rules by 75 percent," compared with the two previous administrations. At the same time, it has issued numerous new rules, including tightening emissions from off-road diesel engines and modernizing food labels "to promote heart-healthy choices," Kolton said.
Bush signed legislation to repeal President Bill Clinton's ergonomics rule; stretched out the compliance timetable for reducing mercury emissions from power plants and other sources, and supported oil drilling in Alaska and development of some wetlands and logging in national forests. Rulemaking at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has slowed to a crawl.
For the businesses, scientific and public interest groups that monitor regulatory policy closely, there is intense curiosity and speculation about what Kerry would do on the regulatory front, as well as armchair analyses of the Bush record.