I’m sure the New York Times didn’t think it was doing what I claim in the headline here with its remarkable story yesterday on Obama’s use of executive power, but what else would you conclude from taking in the direct and cleared-eyed prose of Binyamin Appelbaum and Michael D. Shear:
WASHINGTON — In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life. . .
Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency.
Let’s stop the tape for a moment here though, and break down this second paragraph a little bit. “Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress. . .” Oh, you mean Congress exercising its constitutional powers? Yeah, I think that’s what that means. And “bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency”? Translation: unconstitutional usurpation of power.
Anyway, let’s continue with the Times’s unwitting bill of impeachment:
The Obama administration in its first seven years finalized 560 major regulations — those classified by the Congressional Budget Office as having particularly significant economic or social impacts. That was nearly 50 percent more than the George W. Bush administration during the comparable period, according to data kept by the regulatory studies center at George Washington University. . . And it has imposed billions of dollars in new costs on businesses and consumers.
I’m sure all those costs are worth it. Who needs 3 percent growth anyway? It’s not like Acela riders are paying those costs.
Amazingly, the Times almost stumbles across the way the Obama Administration has gamed cost-benefit analysis to claim yuuuge benefits from its new regulations: it double- and triple-counts the health benefits from reducing particulates, which are falling fast anyway and already regulated by several Clean Air Act programs, meaning the new regulations are redundant. (And never mind that the epidemiology of the particulate health effects is obsolete and dubious to begin with. Some other day.)
The government does not try to quantify all the benefits of proposed regulations. When it came to environmental regulations, the calculation was particularly limited. Analysts often assigned a dollar figure to just one kind of damage — emissions of “small particles” — and then stacked up the costs of the proposal against the benefits of fewer particles.
Neat trick if you can get away with it. It’s like claiming a reduction in obesity as a “benefit” from raising food prices and mandating gym membership. In fact, the story comes close to offering an example of just this kind of logic:
[A]fter Mr. Obama’s re-election, they found a way: White House lawyers concluded that the president could impose requirements on contractors in the interest of taxpayers.
Betsey Stevenson, a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, took the lead in building a case that contractors who paid higher wages would attract and retain better workers, increasing their productivity.
The theory holds, for example, that if the lunch lines at a federal office building moved a little more quickly because of more competent, motivated cafeteria workers, every employee in those lines would save a few minutes a day and have more time to work, thus increasing productivity.
Ah ha! The higher minimum wage is just another plot to increase government “efficiency.” Brings to mind Milton Friedman’s old quip that it’s a good thing we don’t get all the government we pay for.
“We live in an era of presidential administration,” Elena Kagan, a Harvard law professor since appointed by Mr. Obama to the Supreme Court, wrote in a 2001 paper that reviewed the expansion of the regulatory state. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump would most likely face significant congressional opposition to their major campaign promises. To sidestep Congress, they now have the legacy of Mr. Obama.
Here’s one of the best arguments for Trump. Maybe liberals will rediscover the importance of limiting executive power and the reach of the administrative state.
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