While on his recent Midwest bus tour, President Obama held a townhall with farmers and business owners. The first question came from a farmer who was concerned about possible dust regulations coming from Washington. The President's response was to say that the farmer shouldn't believe everything he hears and should give the Department of Agriculture a call to find out what is actually happening.
A resourceful Washington reporter thought that he should undertake the task of getting an answer to the farmer's question. After two days of calls to the USDA in Washington and Illinois, and calls to non-governmental farm organizations, the reporter could not get a clear answer.
Even after realizing that the Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of dust regulations, it still took another afternoon of phone calls to get a clear answer: the EPA does not currently regulate farm dust but does conduct periodic reviews to determine whether such regulations might be necessary.
If it took a reporter familiar with Washington bureaucracy three days to get an answer, I can only imagine how long it would take the average farmer. Frankly, someone trying to run a small farm or a small business doesn't have hours a day to be able to get a clear answer from the federal government. Each minute on the phone is one fewer minute planting crops or serving customers.
Typically, economic recovery after a recession has been driven by small businesses. But during this weak recovery, small businesses have continued to struggle. The National Federation of Independent Business has seen their Small-Business Optimism Index fall for five straight months. The President of the NFIB, in a recent editorial, pointed to new stifling regulations from Washington as playing a part in battering optimism.
President Obama isn't deaf to the argument that government red tape can hold back job growth. This week, Cass Sunstein, the President's regulatory czar, wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the administration's efforts to eliminate antiquated regulations and streamline some government processes. All told, Sunstein hopes that these efforts save $4 billion over the next five years.
While I applaud the President for these attempts, I think that Washington bureaucracy is taking one step forward and two steps back.
Speaker Boehner wrote a letter to the President this week pointing out that there are currently 4,257 new regulatory actions in the works. At least 219 of these will have an economic impact of $100 million or more. In 2010, there were 191 major regulations and in 2009 there were 172. Saving a few billion dollars is a drop in the bucket when you consider that in just three years of the current administration the increased burdens could rise to nearly $60 billion.
The damage on small businesses is disproportionate. According to the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, compliance with federal environmental regulations costs small firms 364 percent more than large firms. Big companies hire plenty of compliance officers and lawyers to help deal with regulations. In many large corporations, there are entire divisions that are solely dedicated to monitoring and complying with government regulations.
In between book-keeping, hiring and managing employees, and working with customers, small business owners somehow have to find the time to make sure they are following the laws and regulations set out by local, state, and federal government.
Here on Capitol Hill, House Republicans are trying to work against the tide. In the Energy and Commerce Committee on which I serve, we've been holding numerous oversight hearings to hold bureaucrats accountable. The House has passed bipartisan legislation calling on various regulations to be halted.
I wish I could say that we've had more success. Unfortunately, the Senate has considered only one of the 11 major jobs bills passed by the House. Exposing the effects of various regulations has not stopped Obama appointees from pressing forward with job-destroying new rules.
We're going to continue to call bureaucrats to account and we're going to continue to fight for small businesses and Americans looking for jobs. The American people want good, private sector jobs. Ultimately, our government must bend to the will of everyday citizens looking for work. I hope that the President and his appointed administrators will listen.