White House delayed a raft of regulations until after 2012 election

Let’s see a show of hands from all of you who are shocked – shocked, I say – to hear this one. Who could have possibly imagined that a series of heavy handed regulations being drawn up by the Executive branch might be delayed in 2011 and 2012 until Barack Obama was safely past his last election bid? I mean, they couldn’t sink that low, could they?

The White House 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, according to documents and interviews with current and former administration officials.

Some agency officials were instructed to hold off submitting proposals to the White House for up to a year to ensure that they would not be issued before voters went to the polls, the current and former officials said.

The delays meant that rules were postponed or never issued. The stalled regulations included crucial elements of the Affordable Care Act, what bodies of water deserved federal protection, pollution controls for industrial boilers and limits on dangerous silica exposure in the workplace.

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.

This is one of those cases which comes across as being so obvious that the White House isn’t even bothering making more than a token effort to respond. The best they came up with when asked during this investigation was, “the administration’s approach to regulatory review is consistent with long-standing precedent across previous administrations and fully adheres to federal rules.” Or, if you prefer for the common person’s translation service, hey, everybody else does it too.

But do they?

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…

Previous White House operations have weighed in on major rules before they were officially submitted for review. But Jeffrey Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in the George W. Bush administration, said the effort was not as extensive as the Obama administration’s approach.

“There was no formalized process by which you had to get permission to send them over,” Holmstead said, referring to rules being submitted to the White House.

The OMB was taking more than 200 days to get some of the more onerous regulations approved in the year before the election. They’re claiming that things get busy and that’s just the way they fall on the calendar. So if that’s the case, the same situation should be applying now, right?

OMB has reduced the length of time that rules are pending this year. The agency has cut the number of rules that were under review for more than 200 days by more than half.

I’d say color me surprised but at this point I suppose nothing should really surprise us anymore.

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