POLITICS

House Republicans Just Let The Cat Out Of The Bag

03/18/2015 01:30 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2015
Win McNamee via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Since taking control of the House in 2010, Republicans have crafted dozens of bills ostensibly devoted to "streamlining and simplifying" the federal government. They've pushed them through the lower chamber, promising to cut red tape and create jobs. But on Tuesday, they let the cat out of the bag. These bills, it turns out, are essentially efforts to undermine Wall Street reform and Obamacare while greenlighting pollution.

Much of the House GOP's jobs package is devoted to legislation requiring various forms of "cost-benefit analysis" on new regulations. Critics, however, have repeatedly noted that agencies already have to perform a host of economic impact assessments before making rules. They argue that these bills are really only interested in emphasizing costs. The benefits of regulations, after all, tend to be longer-term and hard to quantify, while costs are relatively easy to figure out. When you curb pollution and give people access to health insurance, it saves lives -- something far more difficult to assign a dollar value than the upfront costs to corporate interests.

House Republicans posted their budget bill Tuesday, and it includes a "statement of policy" -- see page 123, Section 810 -- that makes the critics' points for them. It decries the "468,500 pages" of new regulations the Obama administration has promulgated, and claims that regulatory efforts are running up an annual $2.03 trillion tab on the public. There is no mention of any benefits, economic or otherwise, that have accrued from any rule.

After bemoaning these abstract costs, the GOP then makes clear what they're really upset about: Obamacare, the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law and Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions from burning coal. No other legislation or regulatory initiative is mentioned. While the Republican budget bill decries "unnecessary red tape," the only examples it can find of such inefficiency just happen to be the signature domestic policy achievements of the Obama administration.

"The House GOP budget enacts radical and extreme 'regulatory reform' measures that are better termed 'deregulatory reform,'" Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for the nonprofit group Public Citizen, told The Huffington Post this week. "If these measures were to become law, the public could expect... inaction on climate change and another Wall Street meltdown."

Remarkably, this GOP push to gut Wall Street reform, repeal Obamacare and protect polluters has garnered Democratic support in both chambers of Congress. In the Senate, corporate-friendly lawmakers including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have co-sponsored Republican bills that seek to saddle regulators with additional cost-benefit requirements. In the House, several conservative Democrats -- including Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition -- have voted for at least one version of the GOP attack on the regulatory state.

The strategy for using cost-benefit analysis to undermine regulators dates back to former House Speaker Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the 1990s, and the GOP has tried to revive and revamp one of Gingrich's key achievements in that vein during the current Congress.

While none of these Republican deregulation efforts have been enacted, the GOP has had tremendous success in the courts by pursuing the same line of attack with existing cost-benefit requirements. Conservative power lawyer Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has overturned key Dodd-Frank rules in court by insisting that agencies didn't properly weigh the corporate costs of financial fairness or stability.

On the other hand, when it's time to write new measures that deregulate industries, Republicans have tended to show some impatience with the economic analysis process -- urging the Securities and Exchange Commission, for instance, to expedite rules deregulating Wall Street securities sales under the so-called JOBS Act.

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