White House

  • May 10, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Lisa Heinzerling, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law

    “The easiest way to save money,” President Obama declared in his 2012 State of the Union address, “is to waste less energy.”  In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama took another step and issued “a new goal for America”: “let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years.” The President also vowed that if Congress did not “act soon” to address climate change, he would “direct [his] Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

    Such welcome sentiments! So sensible and right and good! But here is a puzzling fact: at the same moment President Obama was uttering these wise and welcome remarks, his White House was blocking rules to promote the very energy efficiency he was extolling.  Far from urging the Cabinet to come up with executive actions on climate, his own White House was blocking his Cabinet from taking executive actions on climate. That situation persists to this day.

    To understand this rather startling state of affairs, we need some background about how the regulatory system works today. Congress has passed laws to increase in many different respects the energy efficiency of the “homes and businesses” the President talked about. Like most complicated contemporary laws, the laws on energy efficiency are implemented by an administrative agency, in this case the Department of Energy (DOE).  DOE writes rules that take the basic mandates given by Congress and give them shape; the agency specifies, for example, just how efficient new refrigerators and microwaves and lamps and buildings must be to meet Congress’s requirements.

    Once DOE writes a rule, however, it does not simply issue it. Instead, the rule must first pass through a White House office that oversees the federal rulemaking process – the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA. Under executive orders reaffirmed or issued by President Obama, no rule deemed significant by OIRA can be issued without OIRA’s approval. In the Obama administration, moreover, OIRA has increasingly become simply a portal into the political machinery of the larger White House. Rules go to OIRA and, from there, to the Domestic Policy Council, the White House economic offices, the White House Chief of Staff, even sometimes the President himself. (The former head of OIRA in this administration, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, documents (and lauds) this new reality in his recent book, “Simpler: The Future of Government.”)

    This is how the White House has come to block the very kinds of initiatives President Obama seemed to praise in his State of the Union addresses: energy efficiency rules have gone from DOE to OIRA and have never left.  As of this writing, nine rules from DOE on energy efficiency are stuck at OIRA. Five have been there since 2011, three since 2012. Six are not final rules; they are merely proposals.  Four of the rules are not even economically significant (that is, they do not impose costs of more than $100 million per year). But all of these rules are stuck, all the same.

  • May 7, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    Some 150 legal experts, concerned citizens and community leaders from 27 states are meeting with White House officials today about the judicial vacancy crisis on America’s federal courts. Nationwide, nearly one out of every ten federal judgeships remains vacant, and more than 250 million Americans live in a community with a courtroom vacancy.

    Today marks the end of a Senate deal to schedule votes on 14 nominees. Senate leaders reached the limited agreement after an exasperated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed motions to force votes on 17 nominees.

    After the White House meeting, the community leaders will visit the offices of key senators to urge them to end the delays that have plagued the Senate confirmation process since the beginning of the Obama presidency. 

    “The increasing influence of partisan politics on the judicial selection process harms no one more than the average American who is left waiting for her day in court,” said Alistair Elizabeth Newbern, a clinical professor at Vanderbilt University Law School who leads the American Constitution Society’s Tennessee Lawyer Chapter and is visiting the White House today. “Above all, justice must be available. Every day that a court seat remains vacant makes it less so for the people who need it most.”

    A coalition of 29 national public interest groups issued a statement today emphasizing the urgency of judicial nominations.

    “Regardless of where you live or what issues you care about, all Americans deserve a judiciary that works for them," the statement says. "Today’s White House briefing with community leaders, legal experts and advocates for an effective judiciary is an unequivocal statement about that priority."

    The statement continues:

  • April 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A Washington Post front-page headline declares that the Affordable Care Act “will add $340 billion to deficit, new study finds.” It’s an eye-catching title, especially in light of the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment that the law would lead to a decline in the deficit.

    Jonathan Chait writing for Daily Intel says The Post’s article is hardly the blockbuster story it is dressed up to be.

    For starters there is no such study. Instead, Chait points out that The Post is actually talking about a partisan paper “published by the Mercatus Center, a Koch-funded organization that produces some quality work as well as a fair amount of schlock that does not meet the standards of your typical university economics paper. This paper is an example of the latter.”

    The paper, by Charles Blahous, a research fellow at the Koch-funded organization and former Bush administration official, relies, Chait writes, on a simplistic conceptual trick producing a “bizarre assumption” that the new health care form law can only add to the deficit because of new spending.

    The White House has also weighed in on The Post’s coverage of the Blahous paper. Writing for The White House Blog, Jeanne Lambrew blasts the paper for promoting a false claim, and cites the work of the CBO and the Office of Management and Budget, which projects “lower Federal budget deficits as a result of the law.”