Originally published in Texas on the Potomac blog on January 27, 2011.
House Republicans took advantage of their newfound majority status by hauling President Obama’s chief regulator to Capitol Hill to defend the administration’s actions.
Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (ORIA), was on the hot seat at a hearing held by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations — the first of a yearlong series of hearings designed to highlight the economic cost of Obama administration environmental and safety regulations.
Republicans said their hearing was in response to an executive order issued last week by President Obama — with an accompanying opinion article the president penned for the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page — mandating a government review of some regulations and removal of those that hamper economic growth.
But the hearing soon devolved into a partisan fracas, with Republicans warning of the cost of regulations and Democrats generally praising regulatory action. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said Americans’ “lives are longer and safer and better” because of regulations.
Republicans were far more skeptical about government intervention.
“There has been an explosion of regulations and regulation issues in the first years of the Obama administration. Quite frankly, I haven’t seen that your organization has done anything to slow them down,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis. “What gives us the confidence to think that this new executive order is going to be any different?”
Concerns expressed by Republicans included the effect of regulations on small businesses, the number of regulations relating to the health-care bill and regulations that allowed the EPA to seize control of Texas permitting last month because the state refused to implement new rules for carbon dioxide and green house gas emissions.
“Do you think this is helpful is helpful in creating a climate for job creation that Texas be singled out in this way?” asked Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, in regards to the permitting issue in the state.
While Sunstein conceded that no state should be singled out, he did state that 49 states complied with the EPA’s permitting rule and Texas did not.
“This was going to help people in Texas get permits. In order to go forward there had to be some permitting process and the court approved it,” said Sunstein.
Not all Texans raised concerns about the ORIA and the new executive order, though.
Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, praised regulations relating to the new health-care reform law, stating that such rules would “make insurance better and less expensive” and “make the insurance marketplace more transparent.”
Throughout the meeting, Democrats continually expressed that idea that regulation was not a bad thing.
“This Groundhog Day recitation of how regulations will destroy the economy and jobs has already been shown to be flat out wrong,” said Markey.
According to Sunstein, the ORIA will review any regulations that raise concern dating back until 1920 if necessary.
“Everything is fair game. Needless to say, regulations that have been issued within the last weeks and months wouldn’t the first candidates for the retrospective review because they were reviewed very recently,” said Sunstein.
The retrospective review will cover all executive agencies including the EPA. Independent agencies like the FCC and the Federal Reserve are not included.
Sunstein also expressed hopes that the public would continue to help the ORIA identify regulations that don’t work or are overly burdensome.
“I think you can expect in the relatively near future one very important cabinet agency going out into the public and asking for ideas about retrospective analysis and what rules are causing trouble,” said Sunstein. “The public has a lot more information than we do about what rules are actually doing on the ground so we need their help.
“I agree with that,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns, the subcommittee chairman from Florida.
Finally, agreement on something.