Stealthy and Sleazy

Article excerpt

With attention in Washington, D.C., divided between election post- mortems and the looming financial catastrophe that is the fiscal cliff, a truly awful piece of legislation might well sneak through the 112th Congress before it adjourns at years end.

The Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act (S. 3468) is made more awful by the fact that it has at least some bipartisan support. It appears to be so well-greased that it could be sent to the Senate floor without hearings that would disclose how awful it truly is.

The bill is a stealth attack on independent government regulation masquerading as careful cost-benefit analysis. It would authorize the president to require regulatory agency rulemakers to perform 13 new analyses of regulatory costs before finalizing rules. Then the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (50 people who work for the Office of Management and Budget) would get to review all agency regulations.

Mostly this just sounds like just so much numbing bureaucratic falderal boring, but not awful. But in Washington, a lot of money gets made in the seams of bureaucracy. If a regulated industry can throw a monkey-wrench into the process, casting doubt and slowing things down, then regulation takes much longer to happen. Banks and industry save billions, and consumers go without proper protection.

It will not surprise you to learn that the financial industry is among the bills strongest supporters. Presidents come and go; control of the House and Senate passes from one party to another. But the banks in the immortal words of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. run the place.

This is a sideways attack on Dodd-Frank, said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, a consortium of consumer-advocacy and good-government groups. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was signed into law in July 2010. It is an attempt to curtail some of the more egregious practices of the financial industry that helped crash the economy in 2008.

Dodd-Frank, thanks to the diligent work of financial industry lobbyists, isnt as strong as it should have been. Its rules havent fully taken effect and until last Tuesday, many Republicans in Congress still hoped to repeal it. For the industry, the key now is to drag out the process as long as possible.

Thats what S. 3468 is all about. Regulators, who already do significant cost-benefit analyses, will have to jump through more hoops. …