John Judis has an article in the New Republic talking about how President Obama is changing the mentality of the regulatory agencies:
Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.
The basic idea is that Obama is appointing people who are actually qualified for their positions, as opposed to putting in politicians, and putting money back into the agencies. It all sounds good, especially compared to the Bush administration. I don’t really know enough about all these people but this makes me doubt a bit:
In addition, Bush put a political appointee in each of the regulatory agencies whose job was to make sure they were following OIRA’s dictates. From July 2001 to March 2002, Bush’s OIRA killed 20 regulations, more than Clinton’s OIRA had killed in eight years.Now Obama has put a liberal proponent of cost-benefit analysis, Harvard law professor (and former TNR contributing editor) Cass Sunstein, in charge of the super-agency. He also revoked Bush’s executive order allowing OIRA to intercede at the start of the process and called for reframing cost-benefit analysis to take account of “the role of distributional considerations, fairness, and concern for the interests of future generations.”For his part, Sunstein has stated that he wants to make sure “environmental regulations … are attentive to the interests of future generations and those who are least well-off.” These might seem like general ideas, but they are a clear signal that Obama and Sunstein plan to purge cost-benefit analysis of its conservative bias.
It is very probably true that Sunstein will use a more balanced cost-benefit analysis, but he still thinks that cost-benefit analysis is better than any type of precautionary principle (I look at that here–there are links there to more discussion). This means that he is really a mainstream regulator, he only looks liberal when compared to the reactionary practices of the Bush administration, which may be why:
Four analysts from the Center for Progressive Reform recently wrote that the administration deserves a “B-” for regulation during its first year.
The Obama administration has done a lot of good, but it’s far from progressive in many areas.