The Obama administration's regulatory czar told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today that while he appreciates a slew of bills the panel is considering to overhaul the federal rulemaking process, the White House already has the problem well in hand.
Cass Sunstein, who serves as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, was referring to President Obama's January executive order that seeks to eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations by throwing open the federal rulebooks for review and public comment and requiring periodic look-backs.
"We believe we have the tools we need, and we believe we need your help in making sure those tools operate," Sunstein said. "What the president has done is unprecedented. There's been a lot of talk about it. There's never been a case where agencies have formal look-back plans for the public."
Sunstein warned that some aspects of the eight different bills that senators discussed this morning could do more harm than good. He said he was particularly concerned about proposals that would expand the role of courts and judicial review when it comes to the regulatory process.
Sunstein also warned against the dangers of providing new procedural barriers to the rulemaking process. One such barrier is being proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) through his "REINS Act," which would require Congress to vote on any regulation that has an economic cost of $100 million or more.
Sunstein said such barriers could cause "paralysis by analysis" in the regulatory process -- comments that clearly annoyed Paul.
"I'm a little concerned about saying everything's fine and I can trust you to go ahead and fix these bad regulations," Paul said.
Paul pointed to proposed rules related to the new health care law and the Wall Street reform that he said would have crushing impacts on American business.
"When you say to us we've got it under control ... we think that you're undermining the economy with rules that are vast overreaches," Paul said. "We want you to be restrained. We frankly don't trust you."
Paul called on committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to quickly bring as many of the regulatory proposals discussed this morning up for a vote so the full Senate can begin considering their impacts.
"What we're talking about here is letting the businesses who are creating jobs create more jobs," he said.
Despite Sunstein's attempts to remind senators of the benefits of regulation -- which he stressed include not only economic benefits but also savings from deaths and illnesses prevented -- federal rules generally took a beating at this morning's hearing.
A number of senators took the opportunity to offer various statistics to demonstrate the burden of regulations and the need for reform.
Committee ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose "CURB Act" would require increased analysis of the costs and benefits of proposed rules, opened her statement by referring to a graph that showed that the rate of job growth in the federal regulatory sector has now far outstripped the rate of job growth in the rest of the federal government as well as the private sector.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has introduced a bill to reduce the regulatory paperwork burdens placed on small businesses, tried to put a dollar amount on the problem. He cited a Small Business Administration report from 2010 that showed that the annual cost imposed by regulatory requirements for a business of 20 or fewer employees was $10,585 per employee.
But environmental and public watchdog groups distributed releases at today's hearing panning the various proposals.
"The bills before the committee intend to slow down the already turtle-like regulatory system," said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resource Defense Council. "These proposals would threaten public health and safety and our environment by delaying necessary health, safety and environmental protections, wasting staff time and resources, and denying consideration of the value to the lives saved [and] illnesses and natural resource damage avoided."