Regulation Takes Center Stage in State of the Union Address

Font Size:

Obama emphasizes the role of government in promoting economic growth and fairness.

Font Size:

In his State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama emphasized government’s role in building a stronger, fairer economy. He specifically argued that regulation can “make the free market work better.”

Laying blame for the 2008 financial crisis and resulting economic downturn in part on “regulators [that] had looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior,” the president emphasized the need for strong regulatory oversight of the financial sector. Claiming that passage of Dodd-Frank will ensure that “a crisis like that never happens again,” Obama  also announced that his administration will be creating a new Financial Crimes Unit within the Department of Justice, and he called on Congress to pass legislation increasing penalties for financial fraud.

Although defending the need for “smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior,” President Obama acknowledged that “some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly.” He asserted that his administration approved fewer regulations in its first three years than his predecessor did during the same period of time.

He lauded his administration’s initiative, under Executive Order 13,563, ”to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.”  As an example, he touted his EPA’s decision to exempt milk from oil spill regulations.

But the president also defiantly defended strong environmental and other regulations:

I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago. I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean. I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men.

The president supported the safe harvesting of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing but announced that he is “requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.”

Obama also called for “a smarter, more effective government.”  He repeated his request that Congress give him more  authority to reorganize federal agencies, claiming this will enable him to create a bureaucracy that “is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people.”

Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana provided the Republican rebuttal to Obama’s address. Emphasizing the ballooning federal debt, Daniels deplored a “big and bossy” government that under the Obama administration has “held back rather than sped economic recovery.”

Daniels criticized President Obama and Democrats for assuming that without government’s “benevolent protection” citizens  would “pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage…and the wrong light bulb,” an apparent jab at the Affordable Care Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the Dodd-Frank Act, and the phaseout of incandescent lightbulbs called for by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Daniels argued for a government that would “serve the people rather than supervise them.”

The image of President Barack Obama belongs to Official White House Photographer Pete Souza.