White House Touts Regulatory Reform; Business Leaders, GOP Still Skeptical

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The Obama administration is offering its plans for a "fundamental rethinking" of how Washington operates, introducing a book-length plan to reduce federal regulations in an effort to save American government and businesses time and money.

Business groups and Republicans, though, say that while any streamlining is helpful to businesses, the administration continues to expand the regulatory reach of the government by expanding the powers of agencies like the National Labor Relations Board, the Environmental Protection Agency and, most notably, the Department of Health and Human Resources in accordance with the president’s sweeping national health care law.

Calling it a "defining moment" and "historic day,” Cass Sunstein, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said 30 agencies have responded to President Obama's January 2011 executive order to eliminate "unjustified rules, and absurd and unnecessary paperwork that wastes time and money." Sunstein said their combined proposals will save billions of dollars and tens of millions of hours in paperwork for federal agencies, small businesses as well as state and local governments.

"My hope is that this process might inaugurate a broader, less polarized, more evidence based, less anachronistic, less sound-bite filled conversation about how we might promote growth and job creation in an economically troubled time, while also protecting the health and safety of the American people," Sunstein said at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. AEI, a conservative think tank, is an interesting forum for Sunstein, a prominent liberal, and a former professor at Harvard Law School and the University of Chicago Law School.

Some highlights from the administration’s claims:

- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will eliminate 1.9 million annual hours of redundant reporting burdens on employers, for an estimated annual savings of $40 million.

- OSHA will save employers a combined $585 million by harmonizing US hazard and warning labels with those used abroad.

- The Department of Transportation might change the rules about the type of equipment certain trains are required to have, for an initial $400 million in savings, with another $1 billion saved over the next two decades.

-The Department of Health and Human Services will consider changing the requirements that health care providers enter redundant medical information, like the blood types of their patients, into databases.

Some Republicans don't think the administration's math adds up, though. Testifying before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Wednesday, Sunstein was challenged by lawmakers who believe the best way to get the economy back on track is to keep the government as far away as possible.

"I'm leery of a government that thinks it can do better than anybody else, and thinks it's smarter than anybody else, but has never actually done what it is that they're trying to regulate," explained Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.

In an interview with Fox Business Network Thursday morning, the White House made clear that these revised regulations are subject to change, as experts and the public see fit.

“It’s going to be a regular practice,” said White House budget director Jack Lew. “We’re going to continue to look back as well as forward, and that’s a very important change.”

Change is something the nation’s leading business group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wants to see a lot of, and quickly.

“While we applaud the administration for doing what the law requires, they appear to have sidestepped the fundamental issues of cost and burden that have Republicans and Democrats alike clamoring for long-term regulatory reform,” said Bill Kovacs, the Chamber’s senior vice president of Environment, Technology, and Regulatory Affairs.

Further commenting on added federal regulations, Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., believes that, "at some point, it just gets to be absurd."

All the plans on the table are also on the Internet, where the White House wants the public to weigh in with their opinions. They can be viewed here <http://www.whitehouse.gov/21stcenturygov/actions/21st-century-regulatory-system>