Obama Playing Politics with Regulation? That’s Old News

In the newspaper business, the most precious space is on the front page, above the fold, of the Sunday edition. In that space yesterday, the Washington Post trumpeted that the Obama White House had ”systematically delayed enacting a series of rules on the environment, worker safety and health care to prevent them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election.

WaPo reports:

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any delays until after the election were coincidental and that such decisions were made without regard to politics. But seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.

The number and scope of delays under Obama went well beyond those of his predecessors, who helped shape rules but did not have the same formalized controls, said current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

For many WaPo readers, this revelation may be shocking. For readers of the Cato Institute’s journal Regulation, it’s old news.

Last spring, the American Action Forum’s Sam Batkins and the Bush Institute’s Ike Brannon reported that federal data show the Obama administration’s regulatory activity had slowed in 2012. Their explanation for the “pause”: “presidents up for reelection typically delay controversial regulations that could anger various constituencies.” Because the administration felt confident of President Obama’s reelection, they saw little reason to push through rules in a mad dash of “midnight regulation” and instead kept their activities out of the voters’ sight.

Batkins and Brannon go on to say that now that the 2012 election has safely passed, we should not expect a mad dash of regulation. That’s not good news, however. As they explain, “a reelected president has little compunction to issue regulations quickly—not with four more years of governing in the offing. As a result, no one should interpret the regulatory pause in 2012 as evidence of a new ‘go slow’ approach by the Obama administration.”