What's at Stake
Multiple factors contribute to America's faltering performance. But a major part of the problem over successive presidencies, and one that the Obama administration has sharply exacerbated, is the regulatory burden on the economy. Regulations function as a hidden tax on Americans, with the federal government's own Small Business Administration placing the price tag at $1.75 trillion annually--much higher than the entire burden of individual and corporate income taxes combined.
How did we reach this state of affairs? A look across the landscape shows that federal agencies today have near plenary power to issue whatever regulations they see fit. Though most are nominally controlled by the president, in actual practice agencies are frequently able to act autonomously with little or no presidential oversight. The end result is an economy subject to the whims of unaccountable bureaucrats pursuing their own agendas. A new regulation can suddenly transform a profitable investment into an unprofitable one or render employees unproductive. This produces uncertainty with all its attendant economic ills.
President Obama's expansive agenda has brought the costs of excessive regulation into high-resolution focus. A number of his major initiatives like Dodd-Frank and Obamacare represent a quantum increase in the scale of the regulatory burden on the American economy. Bizarrely, in the face of our economic travails, the most active regulator is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Obama administration's war on carbon dioxide--what Time magazine has called "the most far-reaching environmental regulatory scheme in American history"--is the highest-profile EPA effort. But the EPA also continues to issue endless new regulations touching on countless other forms of economic activity--regulations that drive up costs, hinder investment, and destroy jobs.
In late August of 2011, Cass Sunstein, the White House's regulatory czar, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal proudly announcing the results of an "unprecedentedly ambitious government-wide review" of regulations. The total annual savings? Approximately $2 billion. To put in context just how small this savings is, compare it to the more than $9 billion in new regulatory costs proposed or implemented by the Obama administration in just the prior month. Even worse, compare it to the estimated $1.75 trillion in regulatory costs that the federal government itself estimates are borne by the American economy each year. If the Obama administration can do no better than a one-tenth-of-one-percent reduction in regulation, it is past time to give up hope that they will ever understand the severity of our economic crisis and the need for fundamental reform.
Mitt Romney will treat regulatory costs like other costs: he will establish firm limits for them. A Romney administration will act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy. It will also seek to make structural changes to the federal bureaucracy that ensure economic growth remains front and center when regulatory decisions are made.
Eliminate Undue Economic Burdens
One of the greatest problems with the federal bureaucracy is that each incoming presidential administration leaves in place much of what its predecessor constructed. The result is layer upon layer of often unnecessary or inconsistent regulation. President Obama has compounded this problem with unprecedented federal power grabs over wide swaths of the economy. Obama-era laws and regulations must be rolled back, and pre-existing ones must be carefully scrutinized.
* * Repeal Obamacare
* * Repeal Dodd-Frank and replace with streamlined, modern regulatory framework
* * Amend Sarbanes-Oxley to relieve mid-size companies from onerous requirements
* * Initiate review and elimination of all Obama-era regulations that unduly burden the economy
Reform Environmental Regulation
As president, Mitt Romney will eliminate the regulations promulgated in pursuit of the Obama administration's costly and ineffective anti-carbon agenda. Romney will also press Congress to reform our environmental laws to ensure that they allow for a proper assessment of their costs.
* * Ensure that environmental laws properly account for cost in regulatory process
* * Provide multi-year lead times before companies must come into compliance with onerous new environmental regulations
Adopt Structural Reforms
An agency may be able to conceive of ten different regulations, each imposing costs of $10 billion while producing at least as much in social benefit. Moving forward might sound like a great idea to the typical regulator. But imposing those regulations, no matter what the social benefits, has a similar effect to raising taxes by $100 billion. Regulatory costs need to be treated like the very real costs they are.
* * Impose a regulatory cap of zero dollars on all federal agencies
* * Require congressional approval of all new "major" regulations
* * Reform legal liability system to prevent spurious litigation