Politics marks Obama, GOP battle over regulations

By Alan Fram

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 26 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Since Obama controls federal agencies and Democrats run the Senate, it will be tough for Republicans to force the administration to drop regulations the president likes. Either way, participants agree, the duel will have a distinct political flavor, with the GOP pushing for business interests' goals and Obama protecting Democratic constituencies like labor and environmental groups while also showing concern about stifling jobs.

"Clearly this White House is starting to think about 2012," when Obama faces re-election, said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, which monitors the regulatory process.

In one sign of the administration's changed sensibilities, it bowed to industry pressure Tuesday and delayed a proposal to require companies to keep separate records on workplace musculoskeletal injuries.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has asked about 150 companies and trade groups for suggestions on which regulations to eliminate. He has yet to release any responses, but letters obtained by The Associated Press give a taste for the rules that business dislikes and Republicans might battle:

—The Associated Builders and Contractors, representing the construction industry, has complained about Obama administration policies and rules pressuring contractors to use union workers, eliminate workplace hazards and limit lead exposure.

—The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing a dozen carmakers, favors a single national fuel economy standard over conflicting state requirements. The group is also unhappy about forthcoming rules on ethanol, fuel economy labeling and visibility out the rear of vehicles.

—The National Association of Manufacturers cites a study claiming that regulations contribute to an 18 percent cost disadvantage U.S. companies face against other major countries. They say curbs on greenhouse gases, emissions from boilers and ozone pollution combined with other rules "could cost millions of jobs and weaken an economy in a still fragile recovery."

The government issues 3,000 or more regulations a year, though most are minor, according to data compiled by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Ever since President Bill Clinton issued an executive order similar to Obama's, agencies have been required to evaluate their rules, but few are killed.

In a speech in November, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue said regulations cost Americans $1.75 trillion a year. Though he said many are necessary, he complained about a "regulatory tsunami" that is the country's "single biggest threat to job creation."

Democrats and their supporters say such claims are extreme and unfounded, underscoring the gulf between the two sides.

"Implementation of environment and health laws don't actually impose a big burden on the economy," said David Doniger, climate policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's an unproved big lie."

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