Obama Is Watering Down Regulations More Than Bush, Study Shows

President Barack Obama, criticized by Republicans for slowing job growth by over regulating, has weakened proposed rules at a greater rate than President George W. Bush, according to a new study.

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs changed 76 percent of agency rules submitted for review under Obama, compared with 64 percent under his Republican predecessor, according to the study from the Center for Progressive Reform. Obama also has ignored requirements that he disclose documents exchanged between OIRA and federal agencies, the report said.

“We are disappointed because we thought President Obama had great potential,” Rena Steinzor, president of the center, a Washington-based research group that supports health and environmental rules, said in an interview. “He promised us he would be transparent, but he is just as bad as Bush.”

The scope of government regulation has emerged as a major issue in the 2012 presidential race and on Capitol Hill. Republican presidential candidates have accused Obama of stifling job creation by imposing rules on business, and House Republicans have vowed to rein in proposed regulations on everything from the environment to health care to banking.

Industry Dominates Meetings

In a Nov. 9 presidential debate focused on the economy, Texas Governor Rick Perry said “it’s the regulatory world that is killing America.” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said, “Our biggest problem right now is our regulatory burden.”

The regulatory affairs office’s 1,080 meetings over the past decade have been heavily dominated by business interests, according to the study. Industry representatives made up 65 percent of meeting participants, compared with 12 percent representing public interest groups.

Of the top 30 groups that met with OIRA over the decade, 17 were from industry, including the American Chemistry Council, Exxon Mobil Corp. and the American Forest and Paper Association. Only five were environmental groups, including the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

Groups that met with OIRA were 29 percent more likely to get a rule changed than those who were not, according to the study released yesterday.

EPA Targeted Most

Obama’s administration has met with more environmental groups than Bush, though it still has met with business interests more frequently, Steinzor said.

Environmental Protection Agency rules were targeted more than those from any other agency, with regulations changed 84 percent of the time, the study showed. Other agencies were amended 65 percent of the time.

OIRA has been “eroding the protections that agency specialists have decided are necessary under detailed statutory mandates, following years -- even decades -- of work,” the group wrote in the report, which reviewed records from October 2001 to June 2011.

Cass Sunstein, who heads OIRA, wasn’t immediately available for comment.

John Graham, who ran OIRA from 2001 through 2006 for Bush, said the results of the study are “exactly what you would expect.”

Study Questioned

In Republican administrations, agency heads would be less likely to submit additional rules at all.

“In Democratic administrations, the rules that come to OMB are more anti-business in their drafting,” Graham said in an interview. “They will have more work to do in a Democratic administration.”

Graham criticized the report for assuming the administration’s changes made the regulations less costly.

“They are operating from an assumption which is not validated,” said Graham, now the dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Bloomington, Indiana. “You don’t know from that study which way the changes are going.”

Obama’s White House has approved fewer regulations than Bush at this same point in their tenures, and the estimated costs of those rules haven’t reached the annual peak set in fiscal 1992 under Bush’s father, Bloomberg News reported Oct. 25, citing a review of government data over the past 30 years.

The average annual cost of regulations to businesses under Obama is higher than under his predecessors, the Bloomberg review found.

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