WASHINGTON -- White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein rolled out the results of the administration's four-month-long regulatory review Thursday morning on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal and in an auditorium at the American Enterprise Institute.
If he was looking for the endorsement of the anti-regulatory crowd, he was out of luck. But he wouldn't have got much love from the pro-regulatory crowd either.
Sunstein announced that 30 government agencies have identified hundreds of rules whose elimination or improvement could save the private sector millions of hours of paperwork and billions of dollars.
At the Journal, the commenters were more than a little skeptical.
"What nonsense. This is just another head fake from the Administration. They try to sound like Reagan but act like old Soviet style central planners. No one with a brain is buying it," read one typical response.
He faced antagonism at the AEI as well. But surprisingly enough, the most pointed questions came from members of progressive organizations who had infiltrated the small-government group's meeting.
What about regulations that need to be strengthened, not rolled back, they asked. Didn't this effort come at the cost of pursuing urgently needed new rules?
And Sunstein's words had little effect on business leaders, who remain suspicious and hostile of the Obama crowd.
While the administration's recommendations are "a small step" in the right direction, wrote Bill Kovacs, who oversees regulatory affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "they appear to have sidestepped the fundamental issues of cost and burden that have Republicans and Democrats alike clamoring for long-term regulatory reform."
To some of those who actually helped put Barack Obama in office in the first place, however, the regulatory czar sounded like the enemy.
Sunstein "once again deployed the kind of anti-regulatory rhetoric one might expect from the Chamber of Commerce," Amy Sinden, a Temple University law professor, wrote in a blog post for the Center for Progressive Reform. The White House's "pandering to industry on this issue is in danger of doing long-term damage to the important business of protecting Americans from a variety of hazards."
Another critic was Celeste Monforton, who teaches public health at George Washington University. She is fresh off the independent investigation team that last week released a scathing report about the safety violations that caused the 2010 explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
"One of the many things that we found was there was kind of a sense there that some of the paperwork things that mine operators have to do are burdensome, are unnecessary, have no value," Monforton told HuffPost. Some of those exercises are potentially life-saving, she added.
"But the whole benefit and value of doing those activities -- which generate paperwork -- was completely lost on some of the men who were doing it," Monforton said. "I believe that's related to this longstanding, very destructive rhetoric on paperwork and the burdens of paperwork."
"So when I read Cass Sunstein's Wall Street Journal op-ed today, and the very, very first example he gives of absurd, burdensome paperwork is an OSHA -- a worker safety agency -- regulation, I find that extremely disturbing, and wonder if Mr. Sunstein read our report," she said.
One regulatory change Sunstein talked about a lot on Thursday was a new final rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that the White House said would "remove over 1.9 million annual hours of redundant reporting burdens on employers and save more than $40 million in annual costs." Few details of the rule were available beyond an assertion that "[b]usinesses will no longer be saddled with the obligation to fill out unnecessary government forms."
Sunstein also called attention to an OSHA initiative updating "hazard classifications and labels," which the White House said "is expected to result in an annualized $585 million in estimated savings for employers."
"That was proposed in 2006 by the Bush administration," Monforton noted. "Trying to take credit for something that's been in the pipeline for five years, for me, is an example of our constipated regulatory system," she said -- not something to be proud of.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the review is just the latest in a series of disappointments.
"In terms of protecting public health and safety, the Obama administration has been missing in action," he said. "And the reason for concern is that the Obama administration follows eight years of an aggressive anti-regulatory agenda, during the Bush years. So there's a lot of making up to do. But they appear to be running in place -- or running and hiding."
From the other side of the debate, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was none too pleased either.
"This announcement does not address underlying problems in a flawed process that often creates red tape which lacks common sense, and imposes needlessly difficult and expensive burdens for businesses," he wrote in a statement. "The Oversight Committee and House Republicans will continue to press the Administration to do better."
WATCH Cass Sunstein at the American Enterprise Institute:
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post. You can send him an email, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get email alerts when he writes.
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