It started with the ill-advised compromise with Republicans over the sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts. Even in that maneuver, however, the Democrats managed to hold out with regard to unemployment benefits and clouded the question of whether or not Barack Obama would make like former President Bill Clinton and drift to the center following a disastrous mid-term election and in anticipation of a title defense just two years away.
Now, however, there can be no question. At the memorial service for the victims of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, President Obama struck a decidedly middle-of-the-road tone in urging all of America to fight the tendency to polarize the political debate. After speaking for years about the fallacies of traditionally conservative economic policies, Obama has in recent weeks embraced them, going so far as to acknowledge that alleviating the tax burden for the wealthiest Americans indeed translates into job growth.
Today, Obama himself took to a usually critical Wall Street Journal to tout the merits of the free market and point out the trouble caused by excess regulation.
For two centuries, America’s free market has not only been the source of dazzling ideas and path-breaking products, it has also been the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known. That vibrant entrepreneurialism is the key to our continued global leadership and the success of our people.
But throughout our history, one of the reasons the free market has worked is that we have sought the proper balance. We have preserved freedom of commerce while applying those rules and regulations necessary to protect the public against threats to our health and safety and to safeguard people and businesses from abuse.
From child labor laws to the Clean Air Act to our most recent strictures against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, we have, from time to time, embraced common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.
Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences.
Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government.
This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.
Where necessary, we won’t shy away from addressing obvious gaps: new safety rules for infant formula; procedures to stop preventable infections in hospitals; efforts to target chronic violators of workplace safety laws. But we are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.
For instance, the FDA has long considered saccharin, the artificial sweetener, safe for people to consume. Yet for years, the EPA made companies treat saccharin like other dangerous chemicals. Well, if it goes in your coffee, it is not hazardous waste. The EPA wisely eliminated this rule last month.
A bewildered Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary under George W. Bush, took to Twitter on Tuesday morning and asked, “where is our president, and what have you done with him?”
And the media is starting to follow suit. From a January 17, 2011 piece in the New York Times about a consensus reached by a collection of America’s governors, many of whom face state-level budget crises like never before:
The prescription? Slash spending. Avoid tax increases. Tear up regulations that might drive away business and jobs. Shrink government, even if that means tackling the thorny issues of public employees and their pensions.
Fox Business Network’s Jon Stossel, however, apparently misinterpreted the Times piece as an ideological sea change by the Old Gray Lady, going so far as to call it “a turning point.”
I know that’s absolutely true, and probably fair reporting on what most governors had said. But I never expected to see such fair coverage in the New York Times. I don’t know the writer, Monica Davey. Maybe she’s just an unusual Times reporter.
Or maybe — this is my hope — the need for smaller and simpler government has become so obvious that even the clueless liberals are starting to get it. Wouldn’t that be great?
The stark reality is that this administration, while outwardly projecting an air of pragmatism and interest in fostering job and employment growth through traditionally conservative domestic policy, is still working behind the scenes to find and implement extra-legislative solutions and means by which it may execute the same agenda it has proffered from the days when Barack Obama spoke atop the first-ever Seal of the President-Elect of the United States of America.
At the end of November, in a piece entitled EPA Continues Extra-Legislative Cap-and-Trade Push, I wrote on these pages about how the administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, was looking to undercut the legislators who shelved cap-and-trade policy by adopting more strict regulations on coal ash by classifying it as “hazardous waste.” Essentially the same was done for Carbon Dioxide in 2009.
And it’s happening again, despite the fun language about outdated and cumbersome regulations in the president’s op-ed piece. Just last week, the EPA directly interfered with the livelihood of thousands of Americans and the ability of this nation to satisfy its energy needs by revoking permits for a large coal mine in West Virginia. From Fox News:
A move by the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke the long-standing permits for a mammoth coal mine in West Virginia sends a strong signal that President Obama plans to implement key parts of his agenda even though newly empowered Republicans can block his plans in Congress.
In the aftermath of the November elections, many political pundits predicted that the once-unchecked Obama legislative machine would turn it’s energies to federal rulemaking as a way to circumvent Republicans on Capitol Hill. And the EPA’s decision last week suggests that those forecasts were spot-on.
Much to the consternation of the West Virginia delegation in Congress, the coal industry, and the working people of the Mountain State, the agency took the unprecedented step of revoking a mining permit that it had issued four years ago to Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia.
The revocation prompted unusually harsh responses from West Virginia’s two Democratic Senators.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent the president a letter which read, in part: “I am writing to express my outrage with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to veto a rigorously reviewed and lawfully issued permit at the Spruce Number 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. This action not only affects this specific permit, but needlessly throws other permits into a sea of uncertainty at a time of great economic distress.”
Sen. Joe Manchin issued a statement which appeared to mock the EPA’s permitting process.
“According to the EPA, it doesn’t matter if you did everything right, if you followed all of the rules,” Manchin wrote. “Why? They just change the rules.”
After the resounding defeat in 1994, Bill Clinton actually did maneuver his way to the center, and in the years following he worked with Republicans on issues which would normally never pass the desk of a modern Democrat president, such as welfare reform. This administration is different. Nothing has changed, and any indication to the otherwise is classic smoke-and-mirrors, a bait-and-switch intended to lull Americans into a false sense of centrism.
It worked for Bill Clinton in 1996. This time, looking to the actions and not the words of this president and his administration to shed light on what is really going on, Americans need to be more vigilant.