WASHINGTON — From large manufacturers to a small electric company, businesses complained Thursday about costly government rules at a forum provided by Republicans who are eager to slash federal regulations. Democrats protested that GOP lawmakers only wanted to hear about the burdens of regulation, not the benefits to public health and worker safety.
Witnesses at a House hearing complained about regulations on endangered species, excessive paperwork, anti-pollution standards and much more. Red tape was blamed for denying water to drought-stricken fields, for costing a contractor $10,000 for an unneeded lead inspection and for complicating student loans to minorities.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing was part of a Republican push to eliminate or modify rules that harm profits. Republicans also scheduled more than nine hours of House debate on directing 10 committee chairmen to inventory rules that hurt job creation. The chairmen are already under orders to perform the review, meaning the debate has little meaning other than to let lawmakers vent.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., suggested that the House save the time and just approve the resolution. Republicans refused.
Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and top committee Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland both said they wanted to get rid of unneeded regulations, but the tone between the Republicans and businessmen on one hand and Democrats on the other was clearly different.
Issa has repeatedly complained that President Barack Obama's stimulus program wasted billions of dollars and did not produce enough jobs, even as private industry has been discouraged from job creation by overbearing regulations.
Some of the most dramatic testimony came from one who wasn't at the hearing. Cummings read the testimony of miner Stanley "Goose" Stewart, who worked at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia and was underground when an explosion killed 29 of his colleagues.
Stewart said he tried and failed to revive seven fellow miners. "I had to stack their bodies and cover them with blankets," his statement said. "I still see their faces, covered in layers of soot so black that I couldn't tell one man from another."
His conclusion: "Coal companies today are making large amounts of profit. It would be absurd to weaken the mine regulations and the enforcement capabilities of state and federal mine inspectors unless Congress and large corporations don't mind seeing more tragedies like that of April 5, 2010."
Jack Buschur, president of Buschur Electric in Minster, Ohio, said his firm is down to 18 employees from 30 in 2009 and blamed government requirements.
Buschur said a federal workplace inspector stopped a job, made two of his employees put on protective suits and go through two hours of training on lead dust. He said the stoppage cost the general contractor $10,000, while contractor later learned the inspector was wrong: The lead dust levels on that job were so low that the workers did not require training.
Tom Nassif, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association, said Endangered Species Act rules restricted pumping of water to fruit and vegetable growers just as they were experiencing a drastic drought.
Nassif said the attitude of government regulators is, "We're here to punish you, even if you make technical violations."
Harry Alford, head of the Black Chamber of Commerce, said regulators were unfairly targeting minority students in proposing regulations to hold for-profit colleges accountable for loans to students who cannot repay their debts. He said 40 percent of those students are minorities.
Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., countered that the crackdown was aimed at protecting students who had "big debt and no job."
Michael Fredrich, president of MCM Composites in Manitowoc, Wis., said his firm is getting crushed by a paperwork burden imposed by the health care overhaul law. It requires employers to report tax information about their vendors.
Fredrich said his company, which makes plastics used in a variety of products, has 375 vendors. He said it took three hours to assemble the tax information and type just 11 forms, and estimated it would take two weeks to prepare forms for all the vendors.
"This requirement, which had no place whatsoever in the health care bill, will add $2,400 to our regulatory burden," he said.
Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, complained about the EPA's "continued ratcheting down of emission limits."
Timmonscalled it "shocking" that the Environmental Protection Agency took an "enormously costly" air quality standard for ozone from the Bush administration and plans to make it even more onerous, a step he estimated could cost millions of jobs down the road.