President Barack Obama is pushing forward new government regulations even though it risks the Democrats losing control of the Senate in this fall's congressional elections, groups that follow such efforts say.
"We can’t underestimate the role politics plays in regulatory decisions," Stuart Shapiro, a former staffer at the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), who is now an associate professor at Rutgers University, told The Hill
. "It’s important to remember that at the heart of regulations are political decisions."
The White House's push for shaping the nation's regulatory environment is particularly acute in the area of the environment — and its role is clear in the Kentucky Senate race, The Hill reports.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is tying his Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, to Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial climate rule in their bitter race.
McConnell, who is seeking his sixth term, has charged that Kentuckians could lose thousands of coal jobs under the new EPA rule, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions from future coal-burning power plants.
He has vowed to challenge the regulation at every opportunity, the Hill reports — and Grimes has fired back that she, too, has opposed the rule because of its impact on Bluegrass State jobs.
Despite this, Obama remains fully committed to the climate rule, as well as the EPA's waters rule, Ronald White, regulatory policy director at the Center for Effective Government, told the Hill.
Critics say the regulation would expand federal powers over smaller bodies of water like farm ponds, while the agency contends that it would clarify the law.
"Obviously, there are still some sensitivities, but if President Obama were really worried about negatively influencing the midterm elections, would he have been this aggressive on climate? Would he have been as supportive on the waters rule?" White posed to the Hill. "I suspect not."
The president appears less willing to help out Democrats than he was during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Hill.
The clearest instance, critics said, was when Obama strong-armed Lisa Jackson, who was EPA administrator, into dropping a contentious ozone rule that would have established stronger air-quality standards.
Business groups opposed the ozone rule, and White told the Hill that Obama acted to prevent Republicans from attacking Democrats during the campaign.
"That was clearly politically motivated," he said. "They made some lame attempt to say it was ongoing, but it was clearly politically influenced by the White House’s policy folks, who didn’t want to take on a major controversial rule in the year before a presidential election."
In 2012, the number of regulations that would have affected the economy dropped by 35 percent, to 83, compared with an average of nearly 127 during each of the first three years that President Obama's administration, the Hill reports.
"The results of the election made people in the Obama administration realize that excessive regulation was a talking point Republicans could use," said Susan Dudley, a former OIRA administrator during the George W. Bush administration.
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