Red-Tape Freeze under Fire

September 06, 1992

If government red tape saps the economy of $400 billion a year, as Dan Quayle calculates, how much is due to his boss, George Bush? In three years, President Bush rang up more federal regulations than did deregulator Ronald Reagan in eight.

Sensing the error of his ways in an election year, Mr. Bush turned born-again libertarian. He set a moratorium on new regulations, save those affecting "imminent danger" to the public. The freeze, he said, would save businesses $20 billion a year and protect jobs, a claim he repeated last month while extending the measure another year.

Had that bold stand wrung economic efficiencies -- without endangering public health, safety and environment -- the achievement would have been commendable. Instead, it appears to be political posturing without effect.

Two watchdog groups call it "voodoo accounting." Both Public Citizen and OMB Watch have been critical of the moratorium from the start. Yet the White House has failed to defend the plan with documented savings. Referring to a "painstaking" analysis of 24 federal agencies, an executive branch spokesman simply declared the savings were there, even if not identified. Mr. Quayle and his Council on Competitiveness have declined to explain to Congress, or to the public, what the program has accomplished.

The 75 or so new regulations halted by Mr. Bush this year include measures to protect the safety of construction workers and loggers, preserve endangered species, assure quality of baby formula, limit pesticide exposure of farm laborers, reform nursing home care and strengthen safeguards against AIDS for health care workers.

Government regulations aim at protecting people and their environment. They are adopted because laissez faire is not always fair. They are not crafted to cripple the competitiveness of business. However, some proposed rules may be onerous or counterproductive, and shouldn't be adopted.

The White House and the Office of Management and Budget have long had the power to review federal regulations. These rules need to be assessed individually for their efficacy and impact. Mr. Bush's blanket edict is a misguided ploy to court the business community while abdicating the responsibility for judgment that is the president's.

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