Politics Trumped Policy, Truth for Obama’s Reelect

Story documents how the White House slow-walked regulations despite denials.

President Obama waves at supporters during a "Moving America Forward" rally in Chicago.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Dec. 15, 2013, 7:55 a.m.

The Obama White House put polit­ics be­fore gov­ern­ing in 2012, lied about it, and still won’t own up to it. That’s the bot­tom line of a Wash­ing­ton Post story that shows how far Pres­id­ent Obama has de­volved since prom­ising five years ago to change Wash­ing­ton.

Ju­liet Eilper­in opens her story with a bang.

The White House sys­tem­at­ic­ally delayed en­act­ing a series of rules on the en­vir­on­ment, work­er safety, and health care to pre­vent them from be­com­ing points of con­ten­tion be­fore the 2012 elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments and in­ter­views with cur­rent and former ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Some agency of­fi­cials were in­struc­ted to hold off sub­mit­ting pro­pos­als to the White House for up to a year to en­sure that they would not be is­sued be­fore voters went to the polls, the cur­rent and former of­fi­cials said.

Then she de­scribes the im­pact:

The delays meant that rules were post­poned or nev­er is­sued. The stalled reg­u­la­tions in­cluded cru­cial ele­ments of the Af­ford­able Care Act, what bod­ies of wa­ter de­serve fed­er­al pro­tec­tion,  pol­lu­tion con­trols for in­dus­tri­al boil­ers and lim­its on dan­ger­ous silica ex­pos­ure in the work­place.

Eilper­in’s story quickly re­minds read­ers that the Obama White House is no bet­ter than past ad­min­is­tra­tions about shad­ing the truth. It’s called “spin­ning” in Wash­ing­ton, but to voters it’s just an­oth­er reas­on to doubt the cred­ib­il­ity of their gov­ern­ment and its lead­ers. After be­ing caught sev­er­al times this year mis­lead­ing the pub­lic, Obama’s rat­ings on trust­wor­thi­ness, once a key to his pop­ular­ity, are de­clin­ing.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peatedly said that any delays un­til after the elec­tion were co­in­cid­ent­al and that such de­cisions were made without re­gard to polit­ics. But sev­en cur­rent and former ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials told The Wash­ing­ton Post that the motives be­hind many of the delays were clearly polit­ic­al, as Obama’s top aides fo­cused on avoid­ing con­tro­versy be­fore his reelec­tion.
Obama’s apo­lo­gists will say that every pres­id­ent plays polit­ics with policy in elec­tions years. Two prob­lems with that. First, Obama prom­ised to be bet­ter than the status quo. Second, he’s worse.

The num­ber and scope of delays un­der Obama went well bey­ond those of his pre­de­cessors, who helped shape rules but did not have the same form­al­ized con­trols, said cur­rent and former of­fi­cials who spoke on the con­di­tion of an­onym­ity be­cause of the sens­it­iv­ity of the top­ic.

And yet, even as Eilper­in scat­ters the house of cards, Team Obama keeps spin­ning.
Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials noted that they is­sued a num­ber of con­tro­ver­sial rules dur­ing Obama’s first term, in­clud­ing lim­its on mer­cury emis­sions for power plants and Medi­caid eli­gib­il­ity cri­ter­ia un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act.

“OMB works as ex­ped­i­tiously as pos­sible to re­view rules, but when it comes to com­plex rules with sig­ni­fic­ant po­ten­tial im­pact, we take the time needed to get them right,” Cain said.

Eilper­in calls them out.

But Ron­ald White, who dir­ects reg­u­lat­ory policy at the ad­vocacy group Cen­ter for Ef­fect­ive Gov­ern­ment, said the “overt ma­nip­u­la­tion of the reg­u­lat­ory re­view pro­cess by a small White House of­fice” raises ques­tions about how the gov­ern­ment writes reg­u­la­tions. He said the amount of time it took the White House to re­view pro­posed rules was “par­tic­u­larly egre­gious over the past two years.”

Pre­vi­ous White House op­er­a­tions have weighed in on ma­jor rules be­fore they were of­fi­cially sub­mit­ted for re­view. But Jef­frey Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s Of­fice of Air and Ra­di­ation in the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the ef­fort was not as ex­tens­ive as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach.

Read the full Post story here.

Read a pres­ci­ent Na­tion­al Journ­al story from 2012 “Obama’s Ad­min­is­tra­tion Sits on Key Reg­u­la­tions.”

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