27 May 2011

The Sunstein-Obama Regulatory Review and the Continued Congressional Decline

I was pleasantly surprised to read Cass Sunstein’s piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, outlining the preliminary results of his effort to streamline the federal government.  President Obama has been praised for calling for an effort that is being hailed as a nod to a skeptical business community and the political center.  While the effort is noble and worthwhile, praise is undeserved and merely underlines further our modern disconnect in understanding the presidency.
Too often we view the president as a sort of super Prime Minister, setting the national political agenda.  Trhough his bully pulpit, he most certainly does have a major impact on the legislative and the national debate, but his most important job is running the executive branch.  We inherently understand the president’s role as Commander in Chief, but too often forget he is also the federal government’s chief executive.  He doesn’t deserve special credit for insisting that HHS regulations allow for digital x-rays; insisting that regulations are current is one of the most basic functions of his job!  If regulating milk as an oil imposes unnecessary costs upon business, stop regulating it as such.  Sending one of the brightest members of your administration to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to announce such brilliance seems akin to having the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs brag on television that we’ve started training soldiers and performing maintenance on our ships.  If it’s news that we’ve just started, what must it tell you about what we have been doing in the past?
The retort to this thinking will be that the Bush administration worked in this outdated fashion for eight years, and Obama is changing the culture.  To that I say, “Shame on President Bush,” but let’s not plan a parade for his successor.  Regulating sweetener as HAZMAT is wildly stupid, and I demand more from my president than to be excited when he simply stops moronic practices.
That Sunstein’s effort is the subject of news and praise is further evidence to political scientists of the continued ascendency of the presidency in the legislative and policy-making process; we have become so dependent on the president to do the work assigned in the Constitution to the Congress that we’ve forgotten to ensure he does his own.

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