White House, Boehner face off on cost of regulations

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Friday asked the White House for cost estimates on all pending regulations likely to have a price tag of more than $1 billion. The letter, which also claimed the volume of regulations is increasing, prompted a quick rebuttal from the Obama administration.

"This year, the administration's current regulatory agenda identifies 219 planned new regulations that have estimated annual costs in excess of $100 million each," Boehner wrote. "That's almost a 15 percent increase over last year, and appears to contradict public suggestions by the administration this week that the regulatory burden on American job creators is being scaled back."

Boehner said he was "startled to learn" that one regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency alone would cost the U.S. economy $90 billion.

Accusing the White House of failing to respond to his previous requests for cost estimates, he went on to demand a list of all pending rule-makings that are estimated to cost the economy $1 billion or more. The list should be delivered, he said, by the time Congress reconvenes after Labor Day so that "the information will be available as the House considers legislation requiring a congressional review and approval of any proposed government regulation that will have a significant impact on the economy."

Later Friday, Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, fired back, writing on the White House blog that the speaker was wrongly asserting that the volume of regulations is increasing under the Obama administration.

Sunstein reiterated an earlier description of the administration's current regulatory look-back, noting pending reforms that could save more than $4 billion of regulatory costs over the next five years. "Just this month, 26 agencies released regulatory review plans with over 500 reform initiatives," he wrote. "A mere fraction of the new initiatives will save more than $10 billion over the next five years.

"It is important to note that there has been no significant increase in rule-making under this administration," Sunstein continued. "On the contrary, the number of significant rules reviewed by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and issued in the first two years of the Obama administration is lower than the number issued in the last two years of the Bush administration."

He stressed that "the annual regulatory agenda, sometimes cited as evidence of an increase in regulatory burden, is simply a list of potential ideas that agencies may consider pursuing. Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the agenda is merely a list of rules that are under general contemplation, provided to the public in order to promote transparency. Before any such rule can be issued, it must be subject to a long series of internal and external constraints, including the rule-making requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and the new burden reducing, cost-saving requirements of the president's January executive order on regulation. In any given year, many rules on the agenda do not become final."

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