Legislative efforts were in the forefront during the first year of the Obama administration--but legislation is not the only way an administration leaves its mark. Since the Carter administration, assertive White House oversight of regulatory programs has been an important tool that every president has used to advance his policy objectives. Key issues raised by White House oversight--and the use of cost-benefit analysis as a guide to regulatory decisions--are addressed in Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and Our Health, by Richard L. Revesz and Michael A. Livermore (2008).
This review essay, to be published in the April 2010 issue of the Michigan Law Review, evaluates and criticizes Retaking Rationality's arguments in detail. The essay addresses such questions as whether regulation has been notably different in Republican and Democratic administrations and whether cost-benefit analysis has employed "antiregulation" biases that have blocked or weakened important health, safety, and environmental protections. It also considers several contentious issues in regulatory cost-benefit analysis--such as adjustments to account for "unintended" costs and benefits of government rules and for the age and "quality of life" of protected populations, and the discounting of benefits that will occur in the near or distant future. Finally, the essay argues that White House oversight of regulatory policymaking is a legitimate and essential means for presidents to pursue their policy objectives.
Christopher C. DeMuth is D. C. Searle senior fellow at AEI. Douglas H. Ginsburg is a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Both served as administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees regulatory policymaking, in the Reagan administration.