Obama making cuts in regulations

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is unveiling a slate of regulatory changes it says will cut government red tape and save businesses more than $10 billion over the next five years — and, the White House hopes, bolster its effort to promote job and economic growth.

The plan includes about 500 changes aimed at saving businesses money in a variety of ways, such as consolidating their IRS paperwork, simplifying hazard warnings they must post for workers, and expediting payment to government contractors.

The changes represent Obama's answer to what has been a source of rising criticism of his term: that his regulatory reforms are more costly.

Top advisers assert the Democratic president has shown more restraint in regulation than his Republican predecessor and promoted a common-sense approach. The administration estimates it imposed less-costly requirements on business in 2009 and 2010 than did the George W. Bush administration in 2007 and 2008.

Obama has managed to "change the culture" of the regulatory system, said his regulation czar, Cass Sunste in, "by having openness to public concerns, by getting a sense of how rules are operating on the ground."

Business leaders and Republicans said the new plan contains smart ideas but doesn't take on costly regulations that have been approved but not yet implemented. Obama has made things worse, critics contend, with a crackdown on the financial sector and with the rules that accompany his health care legislation.

When all the regulations imposed in the first two years of Obama's term are fully implemented, they will cost businesses roughly two-thirds the total expense from the rules generated in Bush's eight years in office, said Diane Katz, a regulatory policy research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

"It's all relative," Katz said. "It's significant that this administration is acknowledging that regulatory costs matter. But are the savings they're proposing significant? Not compared to the torrent of new regulations."

The issue of how much regulation is appropriate is already the subject of debate as all sides stake out economic positions for the 2012 presidential campaign.