Regulation and Elections
We all know that elections have consequences. Elections can change the occupant of the White House and the composition of Congress, which portends success or failure on major pieces of legislation and major policy initiatives.
But what about regulation? Isn’t it insulated from politics? After all, regulation exists because there is a belief that expert agencies can best address technical issues rather than leave such choices to elected officials.
Those who follow regulation closely realize that elected officials and their appointees manage regulatory agencies. Consequently, politics shapes the choice of whether to regulate and, if so, the content and timing of regulation.
Recent history provides plenty of examples:
- At the end of the Clinton Administration, OSHA issued a major regulation to reduce repetitive motion injuries. Known as the ergonomics rule, this regulation would have impacted nearly every workplace. OSHA pegged the cost at $4.5 billion per year, and savings of $9 billion per year. The rule never went into effect because the new Congress passed a resolution of disapproval, and newly elected President G.W. Bush signed the resolution.
- At the beginning of the Obama Administration in 2009, regulatory agencies initiated rule making efforts to alter or withdraw certain regulations issued during the Bush Administration. EPA, for example, announced it would revisit the 2008 ozone standard and a Bush de-regulatory effort on the definition of solid waste.
- To avoid controversy during the 2012 election season, the Obama Administration took deliberate steps to slow down regulations---new regulations were put on hold and White House review of new regulations took three times longer than average. The semi-annual regulatory agenda—which lists upcoming regulations—was not issued until December, after the President was re-elected. By Spring 2013, many of the delayed regulations were issued.
- With the upcoming election approaching, a few major regulations have been put on hold until after November. For example, the Administration is expected to propose a lowering of the ozone standard---a proposed rule was recently sent to OMB for review. The final renewable fuel standard is also at OMB for review, as is a rule pertaining to management of underground storage tanks. Also awaiting a conclusion is the above-mentioned EPA rule on the definition of solid waste.
- The Obama Administration is planning to finalize many of the President's signature policy initiatives before the he leaves office in 2016. Among them are regulations to limit greenhouse gases in accordance with the President’s Climate Action Plan. Critical to that effort is to finalize regulation of existing power plants and successfully weather the inevitable judicial challenges.
Should the Republicans regain control of the Senate (there is a good chance) and maintain control of the House (very likely) with the November election, the President’s ability to shape regulation in accordance with his policy preferences will certainly not be curtailed, but it will be lessened for the remainder of his term.
Yes, when it comes to the content and timing of regulation, elections matter.