WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama asked businesses for advice on creating jobs, he might have anticipated that more than 200 responses would quickly be headed his way courtesy of Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican who once called him corrupt.
A month before Obama reached out to businesses, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent 171 letters to various businesses and their trade associations. He asked for help in "identifying existing and proposed regulations that have negatively impacted job growth."
This Thursday, Issa is giving business representatives an opportunity at a hearing by his committee to vent their frustration with government requirements issued by unelected bureaucrats. He wants Obama to include their responses in a review of government regulations the president ordered last month in the administration's effort to find rules that cost Americans jobs.
Issa and Obama don't have to look far. Last month, The Associated Press reported that the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation estimates the administration's proposal for protecting streams from coal mining would strip away about 7,000 of the industry's nearly 81,000 jobs.
Large and small businesses and trade associations told Issa, R-Calif., that they want to change or eliminate more than of 100 regulations — more than half related to the environment and others governing financial rules, the workplace and transportation.
The president's initiative opened the door for Issa to walk through, as Obama looks to improve a frayed relationship with business before the 2012 election. In addition to the regulatory review, the president enlisted the help of two powerhouse executives to advise him on job creation and competitiveness: AOL co-founder Steve Case and General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt.
Obama on Monday defended government regulations in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, even as he promised to eliminate those that are too burdensome.
Politically, it would appear that Issa and Obama are on the same page for the moment, even though the congressman once called him "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." Issa later clarified the comment, saying he was referring to wasteful spending, not criminal corruption.
Issa said Monday, "The president has recognized the value in examining the regulatory barriers impeding private sector job creation." In addition to his letters, Issa has launched a new website, www.americanjobcreators.com , that allows businesses to describe their problems with government regulations.
But with both parties looking toward the 2012 election, the traditional political divisions could emerge when it's time to act on the responses. Republicans want Obama to throw his EPA secretary, Lisa Jackson, under the bus as she tries to set strict air pollution standards including regulating greenhouse gases. Democrats passed a bill to do the same thing two years ago when they controlled the House, but the measure never got a vote in the Senate.
Issa says he's just trying to help the administration get a more comprehensive view of the impact of its regulatory proposals, and is not making judgments on the proposals themselves.
"As the Obama administration begins the process of complying with the president's directive, we are putting forward the other half of the conversation - input directly from job creators," he said. "This effort is meant to complement what the president has ordered and should be a starting point for the broader discussion that will unfold about the regulatory barriers to job creation."
Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, isn't waiting for a regulatory review. Upton has already drafted legislation that would require a two-year delay of EPA's plan to make power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming..
At a recent hearing chaired by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of Energy and Commerce's investigative subcommittee, Republicans summoned Obama's chief regulation official, Cass Sunstein. GOP members launched into tirades against the EPA and other regulatory agencies. Stearns and other Republicans often cut off Sunstein's responses as he tried to explain administration policies.
Many of the responses Issa got simply echo what businesses and their trade associations formally told the administration during the formal public comment periods for regulatory proposals.
Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a private group that monitors federal regulatory actions, said Issa's hearing and the letters he solicited just give corporate interests more opportunities to insist that the administration's regulatory proposals are job killers, a claim he says is unproven.
"These letters are designed around building momentum on putting pressure on the administration to cut back on federal regulations," Bass said.
If the Obama administration takes the responses to Issa seriously, it will have a lot of reading to do.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association objected to special flight restrictions for Washington, D.C., airspace. The group said they were "hastily established during a weekend in February 2003, and . intended to be a temporary security measure imposed in preparation for the then-pending Iraq war." Possible penalty for noncompliance: "pilot certificate revocation or even being 'shot down.'"
The association pegged the cost to the private sector as $628 million over 10 years.
The American Beverage Association, the voice for the non-alcoholic drink industry, said an example of "government overreach" is the spending of stimulus dollars by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC doled out grants "that unfairly single out beverages containing sugar for denigration, including campaigns encouraging the imposition of special taxes on these products."
The group highlighted its collaboration with first lady Michelle Obama in calling for innovative initiatives to end obesity.
The American Chemistry Council contended that proposed EPA regulations for industrial boilers and heaters jeopardized 60,000 jobs, but it said the regulation was a symptom of a wider problem: inadequate measurement of the financial and employment impact of proposed rules.
The American Meat Institute complained that 100,000 jobs could be lost in the meat, livestock and related industries by a proposed livestock and poultry marketing rule that "goes well beyond the mandate" in the 2008 farm bill.
Members of nonprofit credit unions would be harmed by a proposed Federal Reserve rule that would allow the institutions to collect only 12 cents per debit card transaction when their costs amount to 44 cents, according to the National Credit Union Administration. The rule could force credit unions to impose monthly checking account fees of $15 to $20, the group said.
The National Mining Association said EPA "guidance" for surface and underground coal mining in Appalachia amounted to "a de-facto moratorium on the issuance of coal mining permits." The group said EPA acted "in complete disregard of existing federal law and procedure" and would cost the industry "thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars" in West Virginia alone.