December 08, 2013, 06:00 am
GOP touts campaign to blunt Obama's executive powers
By Ben Goad and Julian Hattem
House Republicans say they’re proud of their 2013 campaign to stymie President Obama’s regulatory agenda, even as Congress comes under fire for one of its least productive years.
The bitterly divided Congress will pass fewer laws in 2013 than any year in modern history. As a result of the gridlock, President Obama has turned to his administration’s regulatory authority in pursuit of key policy goals, including efforts to tackle gun violence and climate change.
While House Republicans have pinned the blame for Congress’ anemic legislative output on Senate Democrats, they make no bones about their efforts to blunt Obama’s rulemaking power.
“We’re left with no choice,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “The president can’t just go it alone, that’s not who we are as a country.”
In interviews with The Hill, several House Republicans claimed momentum in the messaging battle over federal regulations, which they’ve portrayed as too overbearing and expensive under the Obama administration.
The conference has sought to put the president’s rulemaking agenda on trial in dozens of hearings convened in 2013 by Republican committee and subcommittee leaders.
Lawmakers have taken aim at everything from new limits on the hours that truck drivers can spend behind the wheel to draft standards for the amount of pollution that can spew from power plants. They've also sought to highlight the cumulative effects of regulations on the private sector.
“I think it’s been made more visible,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) said. “And I do think we will continue to push because I think it’s vital to our small businesses and our industry in this country that we are successful.”
House Democrats counter that the campaign is just part of the same obstructionist agenda that led to this fall’s 16-day shutdown and debt ceiling fiasco.
“I don’t think they can brag about having any accomplishments,” Rep Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said. “And they certainly not only don’t have accomplishments; they’ve done a lot of harm.”
Defenders of stronger regulation say that key protections have been blocked or delayed under fierce pressure from industry groups and their allies in Congress, and scoff at the notion that agency rulemaking has accelerated under Obama.
There are numbers to support both arguments.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service issued a report earlier this year showing that the number of final rules promulgated by the Obama administration through last year was fewer than those issued during President George W. Bush’s first term.
The same report concluded, however, that more “major rules,” those with an annual economic impact exceeding $100 million, were enacted in 2010 than in any year dating back to at least 1997.
Leading the GOP charge against Obama’s regulatory policies is Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has taken much of the criticism for the dysfunction in Congress.
A U.S. News and World Report analysis noted in recent days that the "do-nothing" Congress in 1947 and 1948 passed 900 bills, while the current Congress has only approved 52.
As the House’s top Republican, Boehner has been accused of bringing to the floor a litany of bills that have no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate. This week, Boehner said the lack of productivity is the upper chamber’s fault, arguing that the Senate has refused to act on more than 150 House-passed bills, including several that would tamp down on executive branch rulemaking powers.
“I would argue that the president's policies are getting in the way of our economy growing,” he told reporters. “It's why the House has passed all of these bills this year focused on getting the economy moving again.”
The stalled legislation includes measures that would give Congress more power to block the most costly rules and require agencies to conduct more analysis about the costs of regulations before enacting them.
Democrats frequently note that many of the regulations assailed by Republicans are expressly required by statute. Agencies, they argue, cannot simply ignore their obligation to implement, for instance, hundreds of rules required by the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
Still, Republicans say their efforts can help shape public opinions and, ultimately, the contours of the laws.
Over the last two months, House committees held a dozen hearings probing various aspects of the healthcare law, with the scrutiny ranging from rules about the controversial employer mandate to the troubled ObamaCare website.
Merely highlighting problems with the law has been a focus for Republicans, the lawmakers said.
“We have finally broken through to the American people that the Affordable Care Act is not going to live up to all the promises,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said.
“Just providing transparency and facts for the American people so they can make up their own minds,” he added. “That’s not as fun as passing positive legislation, but in a democracy, that can be an important function.”
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) said that that effort is starting to convince Democrats about flaws in the law.
“Now I think you’re finally hearing that in regards to the healthcare law and in regard to so much of the other regulatory environment,” he said. “At some point I think the left, whether they want or not, is having to admit reality.”
Democrats denied that the campaign is having any substantive effect on key Obama administration regulatory undertakings.
Lawmakers have not been able to significantly blunt workplace safety, environmental or healthcare regulations, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said.
“Those regulations are still in the books,” he said.
“What it’s really been is it’s been an effort to undo that failed. Everything is still in.”