08/01/2013 01:07 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2013

Revenge By Default

House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky, recently asserted in behalf of his cost-cutting party that "President Obama's priorities are going nowhere."

Fleshing out the GOP's intentions, he added that "we'll hold back overly zealous, unnecessary environmental regulations" and we need to scale back big spending "lower priority or nice-to-have programs" that hurt the economy.

What are the lower priority or nice-to-have programs that would take a hit under the proposed Republican budgetary legislation? Look for an 83 percent cut in upgrading dilapidated drinking water systems, a 69 percent decrease in loans to repair waste water facilities, and elimination of Brown Fields, a hazardous waste site cleanup program.

What are the unnecessary regulations that Rogers is talking about?

The House Republican bill would weaken protective language in the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. Regulations would be relaxed that prohibit dredged tailings from mountaintop surface mining being dumped into pristine streams. The proposed legislation would also bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and lowering the sulfur content in gasoline.

To drive home the chairman's point about thwarting Obama's priorities, Rogers' committee is seeking to cut funding of Obama's EPA budget by 34 percent. That includes a 30 percent reduction in the EPA administrator's office fund, a 20 percent cut in the Agency's operational account, and a continued cap on EPA personnel at 1992 levels despite greater 2013 enforcement obligations.

Clearly, the Republicans want to deal Obama's environmental enforcement priorities a setback, so the question arises: If the bill ever passed, who would fill the void in seeing that industrial polluters toed the line? A common thread in GOP thinking is that the free market can sort things out better than regulation. Complementing that thought is the conviction that companies will often voluntarily do the right thing. The trouble is that if you believe voluntary corporate compliance is a superior alternative to regulation, you are no student of American history--or human nature. As for any kind of self-governance stemming from the give and take of commerce, the marketplace has no social conscience or environmental sensitivity. It is driven solely by the quest for profit, regardless of whose toes are stepped on. If the fiscal payoff happens to coincide with long term utilitarian objectives, all the better; if not, too bad.

In their zeal to tarnish Obama's presidency, House Republicans seem willing to undermine the federal government's capacity to carry out its statutory responsibilities. It is a shameful strategy of governing by default that puts the nation more at risk than Obama.