Obama’s Anti-Jobs Agenda

Though President Obama is nowhere to be seen on ground-level job-creation efforts apart from the golf course, he did issue an early 2011 executive order to streamline the federal regulatory process by a fraction of a percent in advance of his still-unannounced jobs agenda.

The president will present that jobs agenda to a joint congressional session, but meanwhile, his policies – such as tolerating the National Labor Relations Board’s dictating where a firm can build a plant – actively rip jobs away.

Sadly, the primary job-planning happening now in the private sector is planning to cancel job creation and to de-employ.

Mr. Obama’s slate of yet more regulations is beyond merely alarming in this tense environment. The FederalRegister already stands at more than 54,000 pages so far this year.

Among new incursions are the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Maximum Achievable Control Technology pollutant standards for fossil-fuel utilities, for cement plants and boilers like the ones factories and hospitals use. Other EPA standards await for ozone, for dust kicked up by farming and for power-plant coal ash.

Far from a jobs agenda, Mr. Obama advances an explicit anti-jobs program, one totaling hundreds of billions of dollars in costs and hundreds of thousands in jobs lost and jobs that can never appear. On top of an orgy of rule-making, our government, as deliberate public policy, prohibits access to safe and efficient extraction of fossil fuels on land and offshore.

The UnifiedAgendaofFederal Regulations is our snapshot of the regulatory pipeline, detailing proposed and final rules on which federal agencies expect to act, plus rules completed recently.

From spring 2009 (Mr. Obama’s first year) to this year’s Unified Agenda, the total number of regulations in the pipeline rose 7 percent – from 3,989 to 4,257. Mr. Obama’s “modifying,” “streamlining” and “repeal” of regulations are not part of the picture, despite administration rhetoric. (See chart.)

“Economically significant” rules in the pipeline – those the feds admit will cost at least $100 million annually and the most ominous for job creation – are up an inconceivable 27 percent since 2009, from 172 to 219. Of these, the ones recently completed or in final-rule phase are up from 87 to 95.

How about rules impacting small businesses, the oft-noted engines of job creation? Those stood at 768 in the spring 2009 UnifiedAgenda; now they’re at 876, 14 percent higher during one of the worst recessions the country has faced.

The EPA, long known as a regulatory leviathan and source of many horror stories before the new fear-fest noted above, increased its rules in the Agenda pipeline from 322 to 358 during the past three years.

Alarmingly, of the 358 rules anticipated from the EPA, 24 are considered “economically significant,” compared to 19 before Mr. Obama streamlined regulation. These regulatory costs, of course, are off-budget charges that will come on top of the EPA’s annual appropriation from taxpayers, which will be about $9 billion this year.

Of EPA rules impacting small business, those have grown from 86 to 93 during the three-year period. Rules affecting small business account for 26 percent of the EPA’s Agenda entries. Of these 93 rules impacting small business, 14 are designated as “economically significant.”

Back in the early 1990s, the proportion of all regulations impacting small business stood at 14 percent of the total number of regulations. Today, 21 percent of rules impact small business – up 3 percent from 2009. Regulatory burdens shouldn’t shift to those least able to bear them.

As for the thousands of federal rules that don’t qualify as economically significant, it is anybody’s guess how many may cost up to $99 million and thus escape the “significant” designation. Congress needs to assure that no significant portion of the regulatory enterprise escapes mandatory cost scrutiny.

With that record, perhaps the president could have someone else deliver his upcoming speech. It would have more credibility.

Numerous reform proposals are on the table. Unfortunately, the immediate reality is torrents of new proposed rules, including the Dodd-Frank financial tsunami and health care rules that haven’t even hit the books yet. If the federal agencies could be made to un-regulate, to undo and to establish regulatory cost budgets as proficiently as they have regulated of late, real progress could be made.

But more important, because voters have no recourse against unelected bureaucrats in the regulatory fourth branch of government, which the Constitution somehow fails to mention, Congress must be made accountable for every dollar of regulatory costs. In particular, no economically significant regulation should take effect until Congress approves it.

The Regulations From the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would implement a version of this policy. Such rediscovery of representative democracy, not a jobs-agenda speech detached from reality, will help get the federal government’s boot off the throat of American business.