About sixty days later than usual, the Obama Administration announced its semi-annual Regulatory Agenda last month, shortly after the July 4 holiday weekend.

Ostensibly, the delay in publication resulted from an extensive review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). However, it is likely that the OMB review was, itself, a political reaction to the steady barrage of anti-regulatory rhetoric that has poured out of the Chamber of Commerce since Republicans won control of the House of Representatives last fall. With control of the House and asserting that excessive regulation is hindering job development, these conservatives have put the Obama Administration on the defensive.

In fact, however, the conservative offensive is not really about regulation and its effects on jobs. Rather, it is an ideological assault on the whole idea that government can be a positive, constructive force in economic development and social well-being. From their perspective, the best government is one that does the least.

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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

Yet, says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan, “With millions of corporations and small businesses currently facing declining demand for their goods and services, it is difficult to imagine them expanding operations to pull the country out of the recession all by themselves. In times of crisis, government needs to step in and step up. A nation survives and manages a crisis by making plans and initiating action that creates jobs, puts money in people’s pockets and spurs demand, allowing the private sector to expand in the wake.”

O’Sullivan’s point is bolstered by the fact is that today’s stalled recession and weakening employment picture were brought on by circumstances developed during the Bush Administration, long before Obama’s election and his consideration of new regulations in health care, environmental protection and occupational safety and health.

“Although excessive regulation had nothing to do with the present jobs crisis,” O’Sullivan asserts, “this is a shameless effort to use the crisis to mobilize the public against consideration of all government initiatives.”

While opposing new regulations of any sort, this alliance would roll back existing rules as well. It has proposed cutbacks in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and opposes federal spending on infrastructure. It demands huge budget cuts as a prerequisite to an increase in the federal debt limit. Meanwhile, it opposes all efforts to increase federal revenue through higher taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.

Many economists believe that the austerity plans of the Republicans are making matters worse. They note that increased federal spending during the Great Depression and WWII created jobs and an economic climate that encouraged private investment and growth. These critics say current government inaction is dragging the economy into steeper decline while its austerity programs will ultimately put the burden of the crisis on workers, the elderly and the poor.

It remains to be seen how much the Administration will press its regulatory agenda in the coming period leading up to the 2012 elections. In any case, the regulatory process is always lengthy, providing a variety of opportunities for comment, amendment and, sometimes, outright rejection. Unless the process gets moving quickly, few new rules are unlikely to be finalized before Obama’s first term ends.

Despite the political obstacles and the long road ahead, the inclusion of several construction-related regulatory initiatives is welcome. These are explained in the accompanying article: Regulatory Agenda Includes Construction-Related Rules.

[Steve Clark]