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Portman Conspiracy Theory Neglects Fact That Obama Administration Has Consistently Dragged Feet on Regulations

Spurned VP candidate Rob Portman has an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today arguing that the Obama Administration has delayed regulations from taking effect until after the 2012 elections, when the hellfire will come down and the jackbooted thugs at the EPA will force us to stop using our smart phones and eat an all-rutabaga diet (I’m embellishing).

After three years of bureaucratic excess, the Obama administration has been quietly postponing several multibillion-dollar regulations until after the November election. Those delayed rules, together with more than 130 unfinished mandates under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, could significantly increase the regulatory drag on our economy in 2013.

Portman goes on to mention pending rules at the Labor Department, EPA, Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services and the financial regulatory agencies implementing Dodd-Frank.

I think there’s far less intrigue going on than Portman claims. First of all, it’s amusing that he has to simultaneously talk of three years of “bureaucratic excess” AND this scheme to push all the regulations off beyond November. The reality is that the Obama Administration has finalized less regulations than the Bush or Clinton Administrations under the same relative time frame. And you can chalk up most of that to a lack of desire to actually regulate.

At the executive branch level, you had Cass Sunstein at OIRA, the office inside OMB which did a pretty effective job of pinpointing and taking out proposed regulations from a host of federal agencies. He was fond of sending around industry attacks on regulatory policies inside the White House. The delay in the ozone rule, for example, really has little to do with forcing the review outside the first term but more about, you know, delaying the rule, to the benefit of pollution-spewing corporations. The EPA must review the rule in 2013 based on the Clean Air Act statute; it’s not just a convenient way to sidestep the election.

Similarly, as Suzy Khimm points out, Dodd-Frank rules have been delayed because financial firms have jawboned the regulators and forced those delays. Just 31% of Dodd-Frank has been implemented at this stage. And that’s a problem that dates back to 2010, and mainly comes from the feckless regulators themselves. They’ve missed 130 deadlines on Dodd-Frank.

If I thought that the Administration were dragging their feet on regulatory matters for political reasons I would say something. I think it’s far more likely that they’re dragging their feet because they’re dragging their feet. In other words, they’re not all that interested in regulation. So don’t worry, Senator Portman. Your corporatocracy is in safe hands.

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David Dayen

David Dayen