By Sen. John Barrasso
White House officials and some leading columnists have increasingly reported over the past few months that President Barack Obama’s regulatory agenda is not hurting our economy.
Job creators across the nation are experiencing a different reality. They see the real impact of Washington red tape — how it increases uncertainty, stifles growth and prevents job creation. From our newest entrepreneurs to titans of industry like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Steve Jobs, America’s job creators have made it clear that the president’s policies are making it harder and more expensive to hire workers.
Week after week, we hear from more companies strangled by red tape. Thomas Fanning, chief executive officer of Southern Co., recently told Fortune magazine, “There’s a collection of proposals today from the [Environmental Protection Agency] that, taken together, will have the effect of raising energy prices in the U.S., depending on where you live, 10 percent to 25 percent. They will force a significant closure of coal plants and could remove over a million jobs from the economy.”
Recently, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, which operates the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains, said his company would thrive if it weren’t for government’s comprehensive campaign against job creation. His message was echoed a few days later by the head of Darden Restaurants, parent of the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse chains. Both cited the cumulative effect of new regulations.
The list could go on and on for nearly every sector of our economy.
In 2011 alone, according to the American Action Forum, the Obama administration’s proposed and final rules have cost more than $230 billion and will most likely impose 120 million hours of paper-pushing. Every hour of paper-pushing for Washington is one less hour of innovation for America.
This explains why a recent Gallup Poll reported that small-business owners say “complying with government regulations” is the most important problem they face today.
When considering the effect of the president’s regulatory agenda, everything must be on the table. Independent agencies like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Communications Commission and the National Labor Relations Board are putting forward hundreds of rules that will overwhelm businesses with unprecedented red tape. The avalanche of new rules will continue to bury U.S. job creators as new Environmental Protection Agency policies, the Dodd-Frank bill and the president’s health care law take effect in the years ahead.
We must also take a full look at the data. One New York Times columnist recently reported that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that only 13 percent of companies reported layoffs because of regulations. That statistic sounds good — until you discover that the Labor Department determines “layoffs” to mean 50 or more persons losing their job at the same time. The Labor Department’s data do not reflect job losses of fewer than 50 people at a time.
In addition, this is a retrospective view of job losses. It does not determine prospectively the effect of regulations on actual hiring. The November jobs report reinforced what we already knew: Job creation is what ails our economy.
Jan. 18 will mark the one-year anniversary of the president’s promise to roll back “dumb regulations” that aren’t working. As of today, the Obama administration has rolled back only one economically significant final rule — a ridiculous rule that treated spilled milk as an oil spill.
If the White House was truly serious about cutting red tape, surely it would have taken more bad rules off the books.
Instead, administration officials have spent more of their time and energy defending red tape. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency officials argued that “an increase in labor demand due to regulation may have a stimulative effect that results in a net increase in overall employment.”
They may have a point — but I don’t think it’s a welcome one. Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire recently reported that it is laying off caregivers and hiring clerks and administrators to comply with the president’s new health care law.
So the Federal Register (the official bookkeeper of Washington’s regulatory activity) gets longer each day. When the Obama administration recently submitted its massive 567-page rule regarding its new CAFE standards, the Federal Register’s website crashed for several hours.
The Federal Register is set to break 80,000 pages this year — for only the second time in our nation’s history. The first time was last year.
As White House chief of staff Bill Daley said earlier this year about the current regulatory environment, “sometimes you can’t defend the indefensible.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.