Don't pull punches, Sen. Blumenthal

As a Senate freshman, Richard Blumenthal hasn't had many significant responsibilities but to his credit, his being new didn't prevent him from calling for changes in the Senate's archaic filibuster rules ahead of many of his senior colleagues.

At other times, he has seemed to be replaying his consumer advocate role as attorney general, as he did in his recent call to abolish blackouts of National Football League games.

That will change next year when, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action, Sen. Blumenthal will conduct hearings on charges the White House delayed enacting rules on the environment, worker safety and health care to prevent them from becoming issues in the 2012 presidential election.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported the Obama administration instructed agency officials to "hold off submitting proposals to the White House for up to a year to ensure that they would not be issued before voters went to the polls."

Seven current and former administration officials said the delays postponed or even killed some regulations that "included crucial elements of the Affordable Care Act, what bodies of water deserved federal protection, pollution controls for industrial boilers and limits on dangerous silica exposure in the workplace." There were others.

These findings appear to have been confirmed by a report from the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent agency that advises the federal government on regulatory issues. It said internal reviews of regulations "took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election."

This would not be surprising. The Obama White House, not the most politically astute in recent memory, has an unfortunate history of trying to attract conservatives by making questionable and/or futile attempts to placate them at election time. Even a cursory analysis of election results indicates these moves did not work in Red States and were unnecessary in Blue States and others where Democrats had a realistic chance of winning.

There was one known delay for a Democratic constituency. When strong labor opposition surfaced after the White House floated its definition of "affordable" health care premiums, the administration obligingly shelved the proposal. These unhappy unions wouldn't have defected to Mitt Romney, of course, but they might have slowed their efforts to mobilize voters.

It appears Sen. Blumenthal's subcommittee will be confronted with a wealth of damning information from that independent report and other sources. Beginning in 2012, the administration started requiring every agency to clear every proposed rule with its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the implementation of federal rules, before formally introducing them.

The agency representatives derisively called these sessions, "Mother, may I?" meetings and often mother ruled they may not.

Among the significant delays was an Environmental Protection Agency proposal requiring cleaner gasoline and lower pollution vehicles that had the support of the auto industry, but the opposition of the oil industry.

Sen. Blumenthal responded to these allegations with a pledge to hold the White House's feet to the fire in next year's subcommittee hearings. "Legal protection delayed is protection denied," he said.

The Blumenthal investigation could have an impact on the remaining credibility of the Obama administration and presidency. It depends upon how it is perceived by the media and the public as well as the course and competition of other events.

It is interesting that the responsibility will be in the hands of a freshman Democratic senator in the fourth year of his first term. But then, Sen. Barack Obama was in the fourth year of his first term when he ran for and was elected president of the United States.

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