Republicans confront White House official over regulations

Republicans fired an opening salvo at federal regulations Wednesday, telling a White House official the administration’s proposed rules would stifle job growth.

Held a day after President Obama called for a bipartisan push to solve the country’s economic problems, the hearing by the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee showed that influential Republicans are in no mood to compromise on their demand to roll back new regulations, especially on the environment.

“From our health to our wealth to the freedom to live our lives the way we want, the federal regulatory state continues to grow and intrude,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee.


The Energy and Commerce Committee generates about half the legislation that comes from the House and oversees a vast swath of the economy, including food safety, environmental protection and healthcare.

At its hearing, the subcommittee questioned Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the White House unit that analyzes the costs, benefits and effects of new rules.

Hoping to woo an estranged business community and to dampen anti-regulatory fervor, Obama signed an executive order last week to spur review of regulations to ensure they helped create jobs and were not unduly burdensome, especially for small business.

Although the hearing was civil, members of both parties took full advantage of the chance to give speeches and interrupt their witness.

Stearns insisted that Sunstein answer yes or no to his sometimes-rhetorical questions.

“These agencies are going to be using amorphous, subjective ideology and political correctness” to analyze regulation, Stearns said. “Won’t it be difficult for them to do any kind of rational cost-benefit analysis?”

“No,” Sunstein said.

The White House official pledged to cooperate with Congress and stressed that the administration was scrutinizing new regulations, such as two Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules that it had recently withdrawn.

“There has been an explosion of regulation in the first years of the Obama administration, and I didn’t see that your group did anything about it,” Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) told Sunstein.

“The number of regulations issued in the last two years is approximately the same as the number of regulations issued in the last two years of the Bush administration,” Sunstein replied.

Sunstein’s responses to what conservatives have termed a regulatory onslaught did little to change Republican subcommittee members’ views.

“Do you believe that every regulation EPA passes should create jobs?” asked Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.).

That is all but impossible, Sunstein said. “I do not believe that every rule any agency creates will create jobs.”