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Obama has slowed down regulation in 2012. What will happen after the election?

You'd think Republicans would be happy to hear that the Obama White House has slowed down the pace of regulation this year. Instead, they're warning that Obama is simply waiting until after the election to push through heavy-handed new rules that will cost the economy and business interests dearly.

"After three years of bureaucratic excess, the Obama administration has been quietly postponing several multibillion-dollar regulations until after the November election," Sen. Rob Portman warns in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, citing delays to Dodd-Frank, EPA, labor, and a host of other rules.

(Source: Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

So far, Obama has actually finalized fewer regulations than either Clinton or Bush at the same point in their terms. A wave of new final regulation is now slated to take effect in 2013. But some of them will be rolled out regardless of who's in office, due to Obama-passed legislation that's already in motion.

It's true that the White House has decided to postpone certain controversial regulations, although the administration says it's because the rules are technically complicated and require further analysis. The EPA has delayed reviewing the ozone standards until 2013, for instance, which the White House says is because of their technical complexity. The Department of Transportation has delayed the final version of a rule that would mandate rear view-cameras on cars until Dec. 31.

And Portman is right that most of Dodd-Frank's new regulations haven't been finalized yet: Only about 31 percent of 398 new rules required have been finalized as of July 18, according to law firm David Polk & Wardwell. Overall, the pace of finalizing new regulations that are deemed "economically significant" — with an annual effect of more than $100 million — has slowed down in 2012 as compared to the end of the Bush White House and the earlier years of the Obama administration.

(Data from OIRA)

The White House denies that it's slowing down because of political motivations. Cass Sunstein, Obama's regulatory czar, believes that the numbers show that the administration has exercised "some discipline" on the regulatory front, being careful to review the costs and benefits of new rules before making a final decision, as he told Politico last month. And liberal groups like the Center for Progressive Reform argue that many of those rules have been changed to accommodate for business interests.

Overall, Obama has actually finalized fewer regulations than his predecessors, according to OMB Watch's analysis of the OIRA database. And while more of them have been "economically significant," the $100 million benchmark for that category isn't adjusted for inflation, so that accounts for at least some of the increase:

(Source: OMB Watch)

In certain instances, it's clear that regulations have been held not because of delay from the White House's regulatory office, but from regulatory independent agencies. According to the law itself, the major pieces of Dodd-Frank were supposed to be finalized this year, but regulators have missed deadlines for 130 rules. So while there will be a major spate of new finalized regulations in 2013, that will happen regardless of whether Obama or Romney is elected president, barring the unlikely chance that Dodd-Frank will be fully repealed.



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Ezra Klein · August 17, 2012

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