WASHINGTON Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum's vow to reverse all regulations enacted under President Barack Obama that impose an economic burden of over $100 million would gut Obama's major initiatives on healthcare, environmental, energy and financial reform.
Santorum's plan would also take down dozens of new health and safety standards and be extremely difficult to accomplish, according to federal data and regulatory experts.
Apart from the difficulty of trying to unravel rules that are already finalized, Santorum would find, if he were elected president, that he had limited authority over independent financial regulators.
For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's efforts to implement the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law would be largely immune to White House objections.
"If you take the rhetoric at face value, no, he can't do what he's saying he'll do," said Cary Coglianese, who heads the University of Pennsylvania Law School's regulation program.
"There's going to be a limited ability, for whomever the next president is, to influence what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does, or the Federal Reserve, or the Securities and Exchange Commission," he said.
In 2011, there were 60 regulations published that would impose total costs of more than $100 million that were final or pending, 32 of which were finalized, according to Federal Register filings from Executive Branch and independent regulatory agencies. There have been 11 such rules published so far this year, with seven finalized.
The cost estimates were compiled by the agencies that proposed the rules.
Many of these rules were subject to review by the White House budget office under cost-benefit laws enacted during the Reagan administration.
The budget office's database shows 138 pending regulations that meet the threshold of being "economically significant," which means that a rule's costs and its benefits total more than $100 million.
On top of those regulations, the budget office lists 29 long-term rule-making actions in its database, including some key provisions of Obama's signature healthcare reforms which do not take effect until 2014.
Republican candidates have pledged to reverse the controversial healthcare law, which requires all Americans to carry health insurance and imposes new obligations on insurers, such as requiring them to take patients regardless of pre-existing conditions.
Because these rules are not yet implemented and they come from an Executive Branch agency controlled by the White House, a President Santorum would have a better chance of canceling them.
UNRAVELING RED TAPE
Among the most costly regulations from 2011 were Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation rules for new fuel economy standards for 2017 models and later light-duty vehicles, which were estimated to cost the auto industry a total of $140 billion to meet.
While many industry groups focus on the cost burdens of regulations, the rule-making proposals also include estimates of benefits. The fuel economy rule estimates a lifetime net benefit of $421 billion.
"It seems foolish to just base a decision on the cost side," said Douglas Elliott, a financial regulatory expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a former investment banker.
Getting rid of all Obama-enacted regulation also would do away with new school nutritional standards, estimated to cost $3 billion, as well new calorie-count requirements for chain restaurants and other food service firms, estimated to cost $359 million.
Since Santorum made his roll-back pledge in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Monday, an aide left room for some regulations to be kept in place.
Santorum would "repeal almost all, but some will just need to be replaced with much less onerous (regulations)," said Matt Benyon, the candidate's chief of staff.
That is easier said than done.
Regulations that are already finalized could not be killed with the stroke of a Republican president's pen. Any new administration would have to propose a new rule, reversing the old one, go through a public comment period and justify the reasons for reversing the regulation in a process that would have to stand up to judicial scrutiny.
It is much easier to kill regulations from Executive Branch agencies such as the EPA or the Department of Transprotation before they are finalized, experts said.
When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, one of his first official acts was to block dozens of regulations that were set in motion during the waning days of the Clinton administration, including many environmental protection rules.
(Editing by Ross Colvin and Christopher Wilson)