Jeff Jacoby

When President Barack Obamaannounced last week that he was ordering executive agencies to scrap "outdated" federal regulations "that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb," and to ensure that new rules use the "least burdensome" means of achieving their goals, the response from the right was polite but doubtful.

"This executive order is hardly a war on red tape," the Competitive Enterprise Institute pointed out, noting that it duplicates a Clinton-era order that has been on the books all along. The Cato Institute's Walter Olson was unimpressed by Obama's single example of an unwarranted regulation: an EPA rule classifying saccharin as hazardous waste. "It was almost as if his point was to pick a regulation so minor that no one cared much about it one way or the other." If the president is serious, The Wall Street Journal editorialized, "this will be one of the great policy walkbacks in American history" -- but it counseled keeping "a Missouri state of mind."

The skeptics can hardly be blamed for not rushing to acclaim Obama as the Great Deregulator.

It was only last spring, after all, that The New York Times -- in a story headlined "With Obama, Regulations Are Back in Fashion" -- was reporting on "the surge in rule-making" and how the administration "has pressed forward on hundreds of new mandates, while also stepping up enforcement." In October, a Heritage Foundation report on "Obama's torrent of new regulation" concluded that the federal regulatory burden was increasing at an unprecedented rate: In fiscal 2010 alone, the administration had adopted 43 major new regulations, at an estimated annual cost to the economy of $26.5 billion, a record.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for