In the run-up to the first round of President Obama's game of cliffhanger poker with Congress, the White House Office of Management and Budget sat around ignoring an obscure but vital law: It failed to publish the "Spring 2012 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions" until just in time for Christmas -- nine months late.
The OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is required by law to publish two Unified Agenda reports each year -- spring and fall -- on the regulations that federal agencies are considering -- including bureaucratic monster trucks such as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Labor Relations Board.
Thousands of American businesses rely on the regulatory road map to make major decisions affecting jobs, investments and the possible need for relocation. For them, it is no trivial delay to spend nine months in the dark regarding the big agencies' plans for their future.
To say that congressional Republicans were furious about this illegal delay would be an understatement. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a release charging, "The Administration broke the law by withholding this document due in April until the end of the year, and broke the President's promise to be transparent by releasing it at a time when they believed as few people as possible might see it."
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, was quoted as saying, "It's very frustrating for all of us in Congress and for the American people that this administration has chosen to just disregard the law and, in many cases, the Constitution, and just do what it chooses to do.
"It's happening everywhere," Kline fumed, "we can't get answers on Fast and Furious, we can't get answers on Benghazi, we can't get answers anywhere."
Law professor Jonathan H. Adler blogged, "Some had speculated the report had been withheld because federal agencies were planning a 'tsunami' of post-election regulations." However, headlines soon proclaimed, "Obama budget office insists 'no regulatory tsunami' on the way." To make their point, OMB officials say the rule count in the late report is down from last year and the year before -- as if that meant anything. In fact, the delay looks increasingly like it was intended to hide the cost and intensity, not the number, of new regulations.
The cost of even a handful of rules can be huge -- economy-wrecking, even. In October 2012, National Economic Research Associates released a report studying the effects of seven pre-existing EPA regulations, affecting only coal-fired generation, and not other vital industries such as food, mining, manufacturing, housing, transportation and everything else that will be crushed by new carbon dioxide regulations. NERA found that just the coal rules alone will cause losses of up to 887,000 jobs per year and impose compliance costs up to $220 billion, with annual costs as high as $16.7 billion per year through 2034. Just with its war on coal, Obama's EPA, all by itself, is destroying the industrial strength of America. Just wait until the EPA gets new carbon rules.
I asked Issa if the delays have prompted business complaints. He told me, "American job creators and business leaders have repeatedly told the committee that the worst impediment to job creation is uncertainty about new regulations."
But what about this delay? Issa said, "The nine-month delay in the release of the Spring 2012 Unified Agenda has only served to promote this uncertainty and keep more private investment capital on the sidelines."
Well, we have last year's Unified Agenda now. But the mandated companion report, the final "2012 Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations," is still missing in action.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.