Em­ploy­ers wary of Obama vow of less red tape

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID BOYER

Busi­nesses big and small aren’t buy­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s claim that he’s re­duc­ing the bur­den of costly fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, a ma­jor bar­rier to job growth.

“It’s a mi­rage,” said Dan Bosch, man­ager of reg­u­la­tory pol­icy at the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness. “The fi­nal rules that are com­ing out in the last two years are worse.”

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce is spon­sor­ing a na­tion­wide tour this sum­mer by for­mer Sen. Evan Bayh, In­di­ana Demo­crat, and for­mer Bush White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. to call for “com­mon-sense” reg­u­la­tory re­form. Among the states they will visit are Wis­con­sin, Ge­or­gia and West Vir­ginia, as well as the pres­i­dent’s home base of Illi­nois.

And House Repub­li­cans held events in their dis­tricts two weeks ago fo­cus­ing on their “Plan for Amer­ica’s Job Cre­ators,” fea­tur­ing calls for lower busi­ness taxes and fewer reg­u­la­tions. At a meet­ing with lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers in his district, House Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence Chair­man Jeb Hen­sar­ling of Texas said com­pa­nies are fac­ing an “avalanche” of gov­ern­ment rules.

“En­trepreneur­ship is cur­rently at a 17-year low, not be- cause of a lack of cap­i­tal, but be­cause of a lack of con­fi­dence,” Mr. Hen­sar­ling said.

In turn, the White House launched a pub­lic­ity of­fen­sive to counter in­dus­try’s be­lief that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is fail­ing to stream­line reg­u­la­tions. Cass Sun­stein, the pres­i­dent’s reg­u­la­tory czar, gave a speech on Capi­tol Hill and wrote an op-ed, con­tend­ing that the first two years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­duced fewer reg­u­la­tions than the last two years of the pres­i­dency of Repub­li­can Ge­orge W. Bush.

“We are elim­i­nat­ing un­nec­es­sary reg­u­la­tory bur­dens and tens of mil­lions of hours in red tape,” Mr. Sun­stein said.

Bill Ko­vacs, the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce’s vice pres­i­dent for en­vi­ron­ment, tech­nol­ogy and reg­u­la­tory af­fairs, said in a blog post that Mr. Sun­stein’s claims of fewer reg­u­la­tions in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion are “disin­gen­u­ous.”

Mr. Ko­vacs noted that the Gov­ern­ment Accountability Of­fice said there were 178 ma­jor rules re­ported to Congress in the fi­nal two years of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, com­pared with 195 such rules in the first two years of the Obama pres­i­dency. And a Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute study found 339 “eco­nom­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant” rules, de­fined as cost­ing $100 mil­lion or more, in the last two years un­der Mr. Bush, but 408 such rules in the first two years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Obama de­clared at a news con­fer­ence that a re­view he or­dered of 30 fed­eral agen­cies has “al­ready iden­ti­fied changes that could po­ten­tially save bil­lions of dol­lars for com­pa­nies over the next sev­eral years.”

The is­sue of ex­ces­sive reg­u­la­tion, a peren­nial de­bate, is gain­ing more at­ten­tion now be­cause Mr. Obama is try­ing to per­suade in­dus­try to spend more of its $2 tril­lion in idle cap­i­tal to cre­ate jobs. The un­em­ploy­ment rate in May was 9.1 per­cent, a level at which no in­cum­bent has ever been re­elected.

Even as Mr. Obama tried to per­suade in­dus­try two weeks ago that he is se­ri­ous about cut­ting reg­u­la­tions, the pres­i­dent in the next breath seemed dis­mis­sive of busi­ness lead­ers’ com­plaints.

“Keep in mind that, the busi­ness com­mu­nity is al­ways com­plain­ing about reg­u­la­tions,” Mr. Obama said. “When un­em­ploy­ment’s at 3 per­cent, and they’re mak­ing record prof­its, they’re go­ing to still com­plain about reg­u­la­tions be­cause, frankly, they want to be able to do what­ever they think is go­ing to max­i­mize their prof­its.”

Econ­o­mist Veronique de Rugy of the con­ser­va­tive Mer­ca­tus Cen­ter at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity said the pres­i­dent im­plied there is some­thing wrong with re­spon­si­ble busi­nesses seek­ing to be as prof­itable as pos­si­ble.

“That’s what en­trepreneurs do, make money,” Ms. de Rugy said. “Imag­ine that.”

She said Mr. Sun­stein’s claims about less rule mak­ing in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion don’t hold much weight, be­cause busi­nesses are also wor­ried about reg­u­la­tions in the pipe­line. That es­pe­cially in­cludes the Dodd-Frank law gov­ern­ing Wall Street (with more than 440 sug­gested rules) and the Obama health care law.

“Oba­macare is go­ing to be a gi­gan­tic bur­den on firms, and it in­tro­duces gi­gan­tic un­cer­tainty into the econ­omy,” Ms. de Rugy said. “It’s go­ing to take years to know all the rules.”

Mr. Sun­stein, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Of­fice of In­for­ma­tion and Reg­u­la­tory Af­fairs, cited sev­eral ex­am­ples for em­ploy­ers to be more op­ti­mistic, in­clud­ing the Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion elim­i­nat­ing 1.9 mil­lion hours of re­dun­dant re­por ting re­quire­ments, the elim­i­na­tion of word­ing in a rule that sub­jected milk pro­duc­ers to abide by the same reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing oil spills, and the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of stu­dent-aid forms.

In de­fense of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Sun­stein also pro­vided ex­am­ples of “con­sumer­friendly” rules that are, in ef­fect, new reg­u­la­tions: New la­bels on sun­screen re­quir­ing more ac­cu­rate claims about pro­tec­tion, and the re­place­ment of the “food pyra­mid” with a “food plate,” which he called “widely praised.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bad for busi­ness? Pres­i­dent Obama

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