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White House delayed enacting rules ahead of 2012 election to avoid controversy

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The headline of this post is picked up verbatim from a report filed by one of the Obama administration’s most vociferous critics. The source is a major media outlet. Its name is the Washington Post, and up until recently it was one of the president’s most ardent supporters.

The article, by Juliet Eilperin, notes that “documents and interviews with current and former administration officials” led to the realization that the “White House systematically delayed enacting a series of rules on the environment, worker safety and health care to prevent them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election.” Eilperin goes on to express skepticism over repeated claims by the White House that “any delays until after the election were coincidental and that such decisions were made without regard to politics,” adding:

But seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.

Eilperin includes a nifty visual, shown here that quantifies (a) the number of significant rules reviewed by this and previous administrations and (b) how long the Obama White House spent on policy reviews compared with those of previous presidencies. The first graph shows a sharp decline in 2012, the second an equally dramatic rise in the same year.

Of the Post’s epiphany one might say, “Better late than never.” But the change it is not all-encompassing (Greg Sargent is still on the payroll) and it is still manifest only in fits and starts. Nevertheless, today’s Post is a far cry from the publication that wrote in its October 2012 endorsement of a second Obama term:

Mr. Obama’s second signal accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, will go a long way when fully implemented toward ending the scandal of 45 million Americans being without health insurance. It also could slow the unaffordable rise in health-care costs, though it is hardly a full answer to that challenge.

With the rollout of Healthcare.gov the following October, the scales fell from the eyes of the paper’s investigative journalistic wing, which has been significantly less charitable toward the man whose hopey-changey song and dance it swallowed whole in 2008. Back then its editors wrote:

Mr. Obama offers a great deal more than being not a Republican. There are two sets of issues that matter most in judging these candidacies. The first has to do with restoring and promoting prosperity and sharing its fruits more evenly in a globalizing era that has suppressed wages and heightened inequality. Here the choice is not a close call. Mr. McCain has little interest in economics and no apparent feel for the topic. His principal proposal, doubling down on the Bush tax cuts, would exacerbate the fiscal wreckage and the inequality simultaneously. Mr. Obama's economic plan contains its share of unaffordable promises, but it pushes more in the direction of fairness and fiscal health. Both men have pledged to tackle climate change.

The endorsement didn’t mention Obama’s vaunted promise of transparency, but even that has been a flashpoint since the health care rollout. Apparently, Nancy Pelosi’s prophecy — that you have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it — has turned out to be accurate, though probably not in the way she imagined.

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