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Obama Tries to Trump GOP on Regulatory Reform

President Barack Obama took the reins back from Republicans on regulatory reform on Tuesday with an executive order, two memorandums and a Wall Street Journal opinion piece mapping out his strategy for the months ahead.

The president’s offensive is his first major salvo in a debate that Republicans have been hoping to dominate over the next two years. The executive order requires federal agencies to review health and safety regulations to determine if they are too burdensome on businesses, in which case they may be changed or repealed. The memorandum directs enforcement agencies to make compliance information easily accessible online and to look for ways to reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses. Agencies will now be required to give written justification when they do not show flexibility in their proposed regulations.

“It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades,” Obama wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece timed with the unveiling of his strategy.

“We are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb,” he said.

Senior administration officials said during a background conference call that the newly unveiled regulatory framework merely codifies practices that have already been under way over the past two years — and that build on President Bill Clinton’s 1993 regulatory order.

Obama is “not breaking new ground” with his strategy, said one official. But what is new is that agencies will now be required to consider alternatives for small businesses such as extended compliance dates or simplified reporting requirements when crafting new regulations — and justify when they don’t give flexibility.

“This should be great news for small business,” the official said.

Another senior administration official dismissed the idea that Obama’s strategy aimed at helping small business should be interpreted as the president taking a more centrist approach in his polices.

“The notion that it’s left or right or center is less relevant,” the official said. “The point is, are we doing what’s best for the American people? I would hope that that’s something people of the left and right ultimately agree on.”

Obama’s move may have blindsided Congressional Republicans, who have been gearing up for a debate on the issue that frames their party as pro-business and pro-jobs.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the administration’s strategy is “interestingly” similar to a job growth plan he proposed last year.

“One of the chief planks of my plan was to address the out-of-control and costly bureaucratic rules and regulations that bog down businesses small and large, so that they’re free to grow and create jobs,” the Virginia Republican said. “Though he and his administration didn’t embrace it last year, we have noticed pieces of the plan being incorporated by the president including trade agreements and rolling back barriers to job creation found in the regulatory system.”

Cantor said he applauded Obama’s executive order but that it must go further. “That’s why I am re-launching the ‘No Cost Jobs Plan’ today, a plan we presented to the president and his party last year,” he said.

Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), called it “ironic” that Democrats have criticized Issa for trying to advance the idea of tying regulatory reform to job creation.

“The president’s intervention pretty much undercuts the Democrats’ ability to attack Issa’s effort as it is now part of a broader discussion that the president is leading. It begs the question, what will folks like the Democratic National Committee and [ranking member Elijah Cummings] say now?” he asked.

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