Opinion

The Great Debate

The regulatory cliff awaits

As President Barack Obama’s first term ends and second begins, it is an opportune time to reflect on the cost and sheer volume of new red tape his administration has created; analyze its impact on small businesses, and prepare for what’s next.

The Obama administration has pursued an active regulatory agenda. The overall regulatory burden is now $1.8 trillion annually, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and this year alone new rules have added $215.4 billion in compliance costs. Small businesses are understandably concerned that the second Obama term will only add to this already heavy regulatory burden.

There has already been a wave of “economically significant” regulations ‑ those with an annual impact of $100 million or more ‑ that outpaced both the Clinton and Bush administrations. That pace slowed leading into the 2012 elections, but a second wave has been building.

We don’t know its exact size because the Obama administration has not published the required unified regulatory agenda in 2012, which identifies new rules that agencies plan to issue in the short- or long-term.

As Washington debates a fiscal cliff on spending and taxes, we should not forget the regulatory avalanche that awaits businesses in the New Year. Roughly 4,100 new regulations are in the pipeline, according to the government’s website. Not all these regulations will affect small businesses. Many will, however ‑ and the compliance costs for small firms will exceed that of their large competitors by some 36 percent.

The U.S. cannot afford to tax energy producers more

Gasoline prices are at all-time highs. As a result, energy policy concerns echo in boardrooms and family rooms across the U.S. At a recent House Energy Committee hearing on “The American Energy Initiative,” Harold Hamm, the top energy adviser of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, warned that President Obama’s proposed repeal of the energy tax provisions for oil and natural gas producers (including a manufacturing tax deduction that all U.S. manufacturers receive) would decrease drilling activity by 40 percent. Can the U.S. afford that?

President Obama wants to end the right of major U.S.-based oil companies to deduct tax payments they make to foreign governments for their overseas operations. He also wants to end tax credits that are allowed to every oil and gas company. Romney wants to protect American competitiveness by keeping the tax benefits intact for oil companies. Let’s look deeper at the energy industry and the taxes energy companies pay.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and natural gas industry pays more than $30 billion on average to the federal government in taxes, rents and royalties every year. The industry is taxed at an effective rate of 60 percent – higher than any other domestic industry.

An unsung victory in healthcare

In 2008, 17 percent of office-based physicians and just 9 percent of hospitals had basic electronic health records (EHRs) and fewer than 10 percent used electronic prescriptions. This doesn’t mean most physicians were Luddites; rather, there were powerful disincentives to their adoption of health IT.

For example: Installing electronic health records required retraining physicians and staff, exacting months of significantly reduced productivity. Technology from different vendors typically did not communicate with each other, so the free flow of information — referral letters, hospital discharge summaries, lab results, X-rays and all the rest — that would make the investment worthwhile was not there. Then there was the network effect: Until a lot of doctors and hospitals were using electronic health records and a lot of vital information was available electronically — even if the various proprietary systems did communicate — it wasn’t worth it. And finally physicians feared that an expensive new EHR system would soon be obsolete, requiring another big capital investment.

On Feb. 17, 2009, President Obama signed the Recovery Act, which contained a number of healthcare provisions, including the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), which nullified these disincentives. HITECH did this by providing physicians payments of up to $44,000 from Medicare and $65,000 from Medicaid — and hospitals getting millions of dollars, with amounts varying based on how many Medicare and Medicaid patients they cared for — to help defray the cost of EHR adoption. Obviously, this is not free money. Physicians and hospitals receive the incentive payments if their EHRs are certified as capable of supporting “meaningful use.” This, in practical terms, means they can be used for e-prescribing, securely exchanging patients’ health information and electronically submitting data on the quality of care. The law also includes a penalty for physicians and hospitals that do not implement EHRs: Their Medicare payments will be reduced beginning in 2015. It also empowers the government to set technology standards regarding interoperability and the secure exchange of health information.

How Ed DeMarco finally cried fraud

By Maureen Tkacik
The opinions expressed are her own.

Read part two of this series: Everyone’s housing market profits were fictitious.

It took three years, but Fannie/Freddie Conservator Ed DeMarco is starting to channel his inner Irving Picard by acknowledging that among root causes of the financial crisis is fraud, and lots of it.

Trying to parse the madness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the past few years has given me a new appreciation for Bernie Madoff. Bernie might not have left much for his victims, but at least they finally got a straight answer about what he’d been doing with their money all those years, and a sensible legal framework for recovering and winding down all that might be left.

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