By Alan Gomez and Fredreka Schouten
After the summer's red-hot battles over the nation's debt ceiling, Republican freshmen return to the nation's capital Wednesday emboldened for one of the fights that could dominate the fall: repealing environmental and labor rules Republican leaders say have stymied hiring.
GOP freshmen sponsored four of the six bills House Republican leaders plan to bring to the full chamber this fall, starting this week with an effort by South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott to bar the National Labor Relations Board from restricting where a company can locate jobs. It would nullify the board's recent decision restricting Boeing's effort to build its 787 Dreamliner airplane at a nonunion assembly plant in South Carolina.
Other measures teed up for rapid action include efforts to roll back rules on emissions from coal-fired power plants and other environmental regulations that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently slammed as "costly bureaucratic handcuffs upon business people who want to create jobs."
On Friday, President Obama decided not to raise the federal ozone standards for air pollution, saying, "I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover."
Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, one of 82 Republicans elected to the House of Representatives for the first time last year, said the group is now figuring out how to show voters that cutting bureaucratic red tape can translate into what Americans are most concerned about: jobs.
"We need to be connecting the dots," he said. "We've got to make it personal in a way that people understand how that regulation
affects them as a family and a business."
Helping set the agenda
GOP freshmen sponsored four of the six bills that House leadership plans to bring to the floor in coming weeks.
* A proposal by Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to bar the National Labor Relations Board from restricting where a company can locate jobs within the USA.
* A bill by Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., that delays EPA air pollution rules for thousands of industrial boilers.
* A bill by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., that facilitates recovery and reuse of materials generated by the combustion of coal and other fossil fuels, known as "coal ash."
* A proposal by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., to stop any changes to national ambient air-quality standards resulting from coarse particulate matter generated by farmers and ranchers, known as "farm dust."
In interviews, Republican freshmen said their pledge to repeal rules advanced by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies resonated with constituents as they traveled through their home districts during last month's congressional break.
"All I really need to do to get any crowd passionate about the regulatory assault on the economy is talk about the EPA," said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas. "Everybody knows about them."
"Everywhere I go, I hear about some kind of regulatory issue," added Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va. He's behind a bipartisan measure that would delay EPA air-pollution rules for thousands of industrial boilers. EPA officials say the new standards will save 2,600 lives a year, avert 4,100 heart attacks and 42,000 asthma attacks.
Griffith -- whose sprawling southwestern Virginia district includes farms, coal mines and furniture manufacturers -- said the rules will drive up costs for business. "If you can't meet the cost of complying, you've got to close down or move to another country," he said.
Environmental groups have pledged to fight that measure and several others outlined last week by Cantor, R-Va., to kill or delay environmental regulations. "We are talking about thousands of people who would die if these rules are delayed or never published or never enforced," said Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called the Republican push "more about partisan ideology than jobs."
The effort to rein in regulations faces an uncertain future in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where at least 30 House-passed bills and amendments championed by Republican freshmen have stalled this year.
GOP freshmen say they also are pushing their leaders to lay more of the blame for congressional inaction at the Senate's doors. "My question is: What are we going to do to hold the Senate's feet to the fire?" said Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La.
Republicans plan to push for spending cuts during a looming budget battle, which begins almost immediately with the current budget expiring Sept. 30. In addition, a new, 12-member "supercommittee" established from the debt-ceiling deal is tasked with reducing the budget by least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Its recommendations are due by Thanksgiving.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said the intense focus on cutting regulations and the deficit this fall could backfire.
"It distracts us from jobs," said Ross, who chairs a House subcommittee on the federal workforce. "We're going to come back and say, 'We're going to cut here, here and here,' and it's going to create a battle, and it's not going to pass the Senate."