Last fall, President Obama decided to cancel a hugely expensive new EPA rule designed to cut smog levels across the country. Obama said he did so out of concern about the rule's impact on jobs.
It was just one of many costly regulations the Obama administration has put on hold or delayed in the run-up to the election, as the president tried to dispel the impression that he's anti-business.
"I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty," Obama said when he put the brakes on the smog standard, "particularly as our economy continues to recover.
But if Obama wins re-election, all these postponed rules, along with a host of other costly regulations, likely will hit the economic shores.
$515 Billion Drag Looms
Using official government sources, the National Federation of Independent Business calculates there are more than 4,000 federal rules in the pipeline, and that just the 13 biggest ones would, if imposed in an Obama second term, cost businesses a total of more than $515 billion over four years.
That tally doesn't include more than 100 still-to-be-written regulations needed to enforce the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, or the mountain of regulations required by ObamaCare. The health law has already resulted in thousands of pages of rules, including 18 pages simply to define what a "full-time employee" is.
Among the most expensive new rules now waiting in the wings: Smog rules. Although Obama canceled those extremely tight new standards — which would put most of the country out of compliance and cost $90 billion a year to meet — he promises to revisit the issue in 2013 and could easily reverse course.
Food safety rules. The Food and Drug Administration finished up vast new food safety rules by the end of last year, but they've been held up by the White House. The cost isn't clear, although the administration admits that the price tag for the rules dealing with imported food "will be significant.
Auto mandates. The Department of Transportation wants to require all new cars to include a rear-view video camera that turns on when cars are backing up. The cost? $10.8 billion over four years.
Greenhouse gas rules. The EPA had planned to release new rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries by this November, but now says it won't issue the rules until next year at the earliest. The oil industry says that, depending how the EPA writes the rule, it could be "very expensive.
Gasoline rules. The EPA's so-called tier 3 rule, which would cut the sulfur content of gasoline, is also in the works. The oil industry figures it will cost refiners $9.8 billion up front and more than $2 billion a year, boosting gas prices as much as 9 cents a gallon.
Fracking rules. The Interior Department says it will issue rules regulating hydraulic fracturing on public lands by the end of this year. The industry expects the rule will cost $1.5 billion a year that could give it vast new authority under the Clean Water Act. The proposal is currently awaiting the White House's approval. A House bill to block this effort has attracted more than a dozen Democratic co-sponsors.
Other regulations in the works include those covering coal ash, toxic pollutants, cooling water intakes at power plans, sunscreens, fine particles, new efficiency standards and various workplace rules.
Despite the recent administrative pause in issuing new rules, and the regulatory review Obama ordered in January 2011, the president has, by every measure, been an aggressive regulator.
In the first 3-1/2 years, his administration issued 37% more "economically significant" regulations — those costing $100 million or more — than had the Bush administration in his first 3-1/2 years, according to data from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
A broader analysis by the Heritage Foundation that includes independent agencies found Obama had imposed nearly four times as many new regulations as Bush in his first three years, with a combined price tag of $46 billion a year.
And Obama has added more than 11,000 pages (or 7%) to the Federal Register — the guidebook containing all the federal rules.
Businesses, meanwhile, have been complaining loudly about the growing intrusiveness of federal regulations. An August study by Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation found that the cost of major regulations has climbed an average 7.8% a year since 1998, while industry output has climbed a mere 0.4%.
A Gallup survey earlier this year found that almost half of small businesses cite worries about new government regulations as a reason they're not hiring.
The results prompted Gallup's chief economist, Dennis Jacobe, to suggest that lawmakers "place a moratorium on new regulations for some period of time," which he said would help "get the economy growing at a pace the average American can recognize as an economic recovery.
For his part, Mitt Romney has promised to overturn Dodd-Frank and ObamaCare, "tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed" and require congressional approval of new "major" regulations.