On the same day a new jobs report suggested weak economic growth, Republicans took aim today at the Obama administration's chief regulatory official, Cass Sunstein, over the impact that government regulations can have on the economy.
The reception for Sunstein was chillier than he's been used to since joining the administration two years ago from Harvard Law School. The co-author of “Nudge,” a popular book on behavioral science, Sunstein was a controversial pick to head up the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs but he has stayed largely behind the scenes since then.
Sunstein fielded a wide array of questions from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, telling them he wants to work with lawmakers and interest groups to iron out disagreements over regulatory policy.
“Suggestions are eagerly welcome,” Sunstein said. He touted preliminary plans released last week to try to trim outdated regulations, saying, “We need your help to make these plans as good as possible.”
But Republicans greeted the administration’s plans with skepticism. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said it was counterproductive for the Obama administration to be issuing new regulations on subjects like health care at the same time as it’s trying to reduce other rules.
“All of the regulations that come out of this town are not helping employers,” Blackburn said.
“The biggest impediment to job creation is a lot of these regulations,” added Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) quoted unflatteringly from one of Sunstein’s academic articles, “Lives, Life-Years and Willingness to Pay,” in which Sunstein examined the monetary value that should be assigned to human lives while weighing the costs and benefits of government regulations.
Sunstein, speaking generally about cost-benefit analyses, emphasized the importance of the indirect human benefits of a regulation or law. “If you have a law that saves lives, [then] that saves money, in the sense that healthier and living people are good for the economy,” he said.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.