Obama, GOP skirmish over federal rules' economic impact
WASHINGTON — President Obama and congressional Republicans are launching their next pitched battle over government and the economy, this one over whether the administration's regulation of American business is killing jobs.
Starting a week after Labor Day, Republicans will have a series of votes in the House of Representatives to repeal what they called 10 "job-destroying regulations" that Obama's administration enacted. The first one up for a vote: a National Labor Relations Board complaint against Boeing for building a new factory in South Carolina.
Obama weighed in Tuesday, saying regulations in his first two years in office cost less than those in the final two years of the Bush presidency. Moreover, he said, they were worth it because their benefits in health and lives saved were worth billions more than their costs.
Overall, this evolving clash over regulation promises to be a major part of a months-long fight over the role of the government in the struggling economy. Other elements will include Obama's speech next week proposing new initiatives to create jobs, and the work of a congressional "super committee" to identify a package of more than $1 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases over a decade to curb deficits.
The Republican effort to stop or repeal government regulations is more likely to help frame the political debate for the 2012 elections than to change the course of government. Once the federal bureaucracy sets rules and regulations, it takes a vote of Congress and the signature of the president to reverse them. The Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to agree to repeal any of the 10 targeted rules and regulations. Even if it did, Obama probably would veto the action.
Nonetheless, House committee chairmen have been working since the Republicans took control in January to identify regulations they want to repeal.
"They've found many that have tied the hands of small-business people and prevented job growth," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Monday in a memo to Republicans.
"By pursuing a steady repeal of job-destroying regulations, we can help lift the cloud of uncertainty hanging over small and large employers alike, empowering them to hire more workers."
The first vote, the week of Sept. 12, will be on a proposal from Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to prevent the NLRB from restricting where an employer can create jobs in the U.S. The labor board said Boeing was opening the plant in South Carolina, a "right-to-work" state, to punish union members at a plant in Washington state.
The Republican target list includes:
—A new air pollution rule for utility plants that Republicans said would increase utility rates in some parts of the country by 12 to 24 percent.
—New rules for boilers that Republicans said would endanger as many as 200,000 jobs, while costing businesses billions of dollars. The forest and paper industry, for example, would have to spend $5 billion to $7 billion, Cantor said.
—A new regulation of coal ash that Cantor said would kill more than 100,000 jobs and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
—An expected new regulation of particulate matter in the air, called farm dust, that Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said would hurt jobs across the farm belt.
Obama countered Tuesday that he's worked to avoid needless regulation, but said the regulations he'd backed had been necessary and cost-effective.
"I agree that it is extremely important to minimize regulatory burdens and to avoid unjustified regulatory costs, particularly in this difficult economic period," he said in an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The president said, though, that the costs of rules and regulations "were actually higher in 2007 and 2008 than in the first two years of my administration."
In 2009 and 2010, he added, "the benefits of such rules — including not only monetary savings but also lives saved and illnesses prevented — exceeded the costs by tens of billions of dollars."
Responding to a request from Boehner, Obama also released a list of pending regulations that could cost more than $1 billion a year each. He listed seven, from clean air rules to a new standard for rearview mirrors, that together would cost $37.6 billion to $109.5 billion a year to implement.
"Of course, these rules are merely proposed," the president said. "Before finalizing any of them, we will take account of public comments and concerns and give careful consideration to cost-saving possibilities and alternatives."
Boehner responded that Obama should go much further, urging the president to release the details of 212 additional planned rules and regulations that would cost more than $100 million a year.
"At a time like this," Boehner said in a statement, "with our economy struggling to create jobs, it's misguided for the federal government to be imposing so many new rules with such enormous costs, even when some of those rules may be well-intentioned."