TOPICS > Politics

Issa, Cummings Debate Costs, Benefits of Easing Business Regulations

February 10, 2011 at 6:09 PM EST
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Business leaders have long complained that government regulations are costly and threaten jobs, and the GOP-led House addressed the topic at a committee hearing. Judy Woodruff talks with two members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: Republican Darrell Issa and Democrat Elijah Cummings.
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JEFFREY BROWN: The Republican majority in the House of Representatives stepped up its push today to free businesses from what it — from what they see as burdensome government regulation.

Judy Woodruff has our story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: From workplace safety, to environmental cleanup, to financial oversight, business leaders have long complained that government regulations are costly and often threaten jobs.

Republicans are sympathetic to the complaints. And now that the GOP controls the House of Representatives, they’re targeting regulations, as at today’s hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-Ind.): Regulation is strangling the private sector, and so we have to be very careful when we regulate something that we don’t put ourselves in a non-competitive situation, while at the same time being concerned about — about the people that are in the work force.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats pushed back and suggested the benefits of certain regulations were missing from the debate.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-N.Y.): These regulations affect real people and — and has real significant benefits in protecting consumers and people in our society that cannot be measured by merely a cost-profit side or a tally sheet. It is there to protect people, and it should be part of the discussion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The only witnesses invited were critical of regulations: industry representatives and small business owners.

JAY TIMMONS, National Association of Manufacturers: And even for our member companies who are investing and expanding, regulatory uncertainty and costs discourage the addition of new employees.

KAREN KERRIGAN, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council: As a small business owner, you not only continue to look at the uncertainty of the economy. You’re also looking at new regulation and costs that will permeate your entire business.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The committee’s new chairman, California Republican Darrell Issa, himself the owner of an electronics manufacturing company, has been soliciting industry comments on regulations.

Last year, he sent a letter to companies and trade groups seeking input. He received more than 200 responses, among them, complaints about the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution control efforts, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s workplace safety rules, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food safety regulations.

The claim that government rules hinder growth and job creation has taken center stage for both parties, with an eye on next year’s election, since getting companies hiring is key to boost the still-lagging economy. It was topic A for Republican leaders at a White House lunch yesterday.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-Ohio), speaker of the House: Clearly, our number-one issue is getting the economy going again and getting people back to work. And we believe that, in order for that to happen, that we need to cut spending, we need to stop unnecessary regulation that’s hampering small business’ ability to hire people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For his part, on Monday, President Obama, in an effort to neutralize the issue, told the Chamber of Commerce he would work to remove unnecessary restrictions.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have ordered a government-wide review, and if there are rules on the books that are needlessly stifling job creation and economic growth, we will fix them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Capitol Hill, the House could vote this week to direct House committees to compile a list of rules that they deem obstacles to job growth.

Now, two different views from the top Republican and Democratic members of the committee at the center of today’s action.

First to Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. He chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Welcome, Congressman Issa.

You have said that your goal is not to do away with regulations. If not, what is the goal?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-Calif.), Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman: Well, the goal is to find, out of the tremendous growth in regulations and regulatory actions, whether some of these actions, if changed slightly, modified, enhanced, combined, or even streamlined just to be a little quicker, could cause American companies to be able to create more jobs.

We often hear about the time it takes to get FDA approval versus the Europeans. These kinds of areas, including EPA and some of the obvious ones, were what we have begun a dialogue with job creators on to see if, in fact, we can be part of the solution to their job creation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the EPA. And in fact, it seems that more than half of the comments that have come in from business do have to do with environmental regulations.

Do you believe that the environment simply is going to have to take a backseat while the economy struggles to get back on its feet?

REP. DARRELL ISSA: Oh, not at all. Let’s remember that, in fact, most of what they were complaining about are new standards, additional items that may not be ready for prime time.

One example was this Boiler MACT — M-A-C-T — where there’s a new standard that even the EPA has said is flawed. They asked the courts to give them a delay. And yet, the courts are saying, no, you have made a standard, implement it, even if, in fact, it’s not viable.

So, there are some things that happen. They don’t happen often, but those things are the ones we want to review. And, quite frankly, we’re in harmony with the president, who’s asking for this review and is broadly looking for a way to get the private sector hiring again through whatever means, and including regulatory alignment that might be necessary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you mentioned the president. Is that a significant step he’s taken, do you think, in your direction?

REP. DARRELL ISSA: I — I think in the direction of the American people. We don’t view it as us vs. him.

If he sees, as we do, that these should be looked at, streamlined, see if we can’t find a way to, as the president said, make things shovel-ready, something he discovered was a lot harder to do when he got into trying to stimulate the economy, that’s good for everyone, and particularly for employers who will make investments with some of the dollars sitting on the sidelines if the right symbols are coming from government and the right partnership with government.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Chairman Issa, it is the case the ranking Democrat on your committee, Rep. Cummings, Elijah Cummings — and we’re going to talk to him in a moment — he says that you have only asked businesses to give information about regulations — about the cost of regulation, and nothing about the benefit, and that you only invited witnesses today that — who were essentially critical of regulation.

Is that a fair comment?

REP. DARRELL ISSA: Well, I think it may be a little myopic.

The — the offer we made at AmericanJobCreators.com was for anyone to come in and make their comments. We didn’t limit who got on our website and did it. The letters we sent out were to some of the representatives of the largest companies and employers, and — but including small business, NFIB and others like that.

But, understand, the Business Roundtable and others that weighed in, these are the same groups the president reached out to with substantially the same question. So, my ranking member may not understand that, when I ask the same question as the president, it’s for the same reason.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, in other words, there weren’t people out there with views who were left out?

REP. DARRELL ISSA: Well, not at all.

The minority chose a witness. Mr. Shapiro spoke on behalf of his views, which were, in a nutshell — and he reiterated them — that he sees no reason to have a cost-vs.-benefit analysis. He thinks it’s futile, meaning that no matter how much it costs, go ahead and do regulations.

I would hope that, instead of the progressive witness that they had, that they would have sensible groups that see an advantage to environmental progress, while at the same time getting business progress, that win-win that we often look for but don’t find in government, but we find it in the private sector whenever possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s Mr. Cummings’ view, as I understand it, that much of the current economic crisis is the result of inadequate regulation in the financial industry.

Do you share that view?

REP. DARRELL ISSA: Well, I think two years after a financial meltdown, after trillions of dollars being put back in the economy, when we have corporate leaders who have over a trillion dollars sitting overseas in cash that won’t bring it back because they don’t have a place to invest it and don’t want to pay the additional taxes, when we see lines of credit and capability, particularly for our larger companies, not being utilized, we should start looking beyond a financial crisis that was, in fact, two years ago and is largely behind us.

I think the important thing is, when you see global profits — and Mr. Cummings said this in the hearing — and they were exponential in their growth, no question at all, and then you find out that over 80 percent of those profit increases came from foreign operations, you realize America’s beginning to be left behind in job creation. And that’s what today’s hearing was about. That’s what we’re going to continue trying to find.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And…

REP. DARRELL ISSA: We look forward to hearing from all parties on this issue. We’re certainly not making conclusions. We’re just asking questions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One last very quick question about the — some of the difficulties the Republican leadership in the House is having with new Tea Party-backed members, who want deeper spending cuts and other things.

Is the Tea Party — these freshmen members who are backed by the Tea Party, are they basically now the driving force among House Republicans?

REP. DARRELL ISSA: Well, I certainly think, when many of my members, including some of these new members, are asking us to do better — we got to $100 billion in sensible cuts on an annualized basis. They are saying they want those cuts in seven months.

And we’re working together to try to find them. But remember, that’s the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got a $1.5 trillion deficit. So, we’re only talking about one-fifteenth of the deficit being carved away. We are going to have to do more with the president to really find ways to reduce the size of the burden of government, to get people working again.

And part of it is, if we can get job creation, we will begin increasing the revenues to the government without tax increases, simply because people get back to work, don’t need the aid, and are paying more taxes. That’s the win-win that today’s hearing was about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight Committee, thanks very much.

REP. DARRELL ISSA: You’re most welcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now, as promised, to Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. He’s the ranking Democrat on the Committee on House Oversight and Government Reform.

Congressman — Congressman Cummings, thank you so much for being with us.

I don’t know if you were able to hear, but your committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, just said, it’s not that he wants to do away with all regulations, but just those that are interfering with job creation.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-Md.): Yes, I did hear him.

And I think that — well, based on the hearing that we had today, the seven witnesses that were brought by the majority, basically, they all talked about — they didn’t talk a lot about the benefits of regulations and the importance of them, but they talked about how they wanted to get rid of them.

And, really, we did not have a lot of facts, no statistics. They basically said this is what we want to get rid of, period.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and, when I asked — in fact, I asked Chairman Issa about that, and he said that most of the comments that were solicited back were critical.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Yes. Well, the letter specifically went out — he sent the letter out to I think about 100 and — more than 160 corporations.

And he basically asked them to tell us — tell him what were the — quote — “job-killing regulations” that they would like to see repealed. And, so when you ask in that way, that’s exactly what you’re going to get.

You know, the Sierra Club was not solicited. Organizations that have fought for these regulations trying to protect the American public, they were not solicited in these letters.

And, so, what we have all – we’ve said all the time is that we wanted to take a comprehensive look at these regulations, basically, what the president has said he wants to do through his executive order, to look at these regulations. If they’re outdated, if they are — if they make no sense anymore, if they are too onerous, we want to take a close look at them.

But, on the other hand, we also want to keep in mind that, when we were sworn in, we swore that, as members of Congress, to protect the American people. And, so, I think our first — we want — our first objective is to make sure Americans are protected. And, at the same time, we want to create jobs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, fully half of the comments that have come back, evidently, at least half, had to do with the environment.

I mean, is it — do you acknowledge that perhaps there’s been some — some overzealous regulation when it comes to the environment?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I think there have been some instances where they may have been — maybe government may have gone a bit too far.

But you cannot make that determination unless you have a comprehensive look at these regulations. Keep in mind, there is a process by which the public and — and business have an opportunity to comment on regulations before they come out, in other words, to criticize them.

And you know who usually is in that process and involved in that process? Business. Usually, the public doesn’t have the money, nor do they have the lobbying power, to get to the — that — those promulgating the regulations to even put their facts forward.

And, so, we are in a situation where these things have been vetted, they have gone through a process. And maybe industry didn’t like them, and so now they get a second or third bite at the apple.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I mean, I’m just — just quoting. There was one person who testified today — I guess he’s the head of a company in Wisconsin — who testified it took his staff, he said, three hours and $2,500 I guess per form to comply with health care regulations.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Well, he was talking — he was talking about the 1099.

And that’s one that I venture to guess the entire Congress and Senate will agree we need to take out. But, again, in the process of creating the health care law, those provisions were put in there to try to make sure that the health care bill was properly paid for. So, now we are going to more than likely take it out, but now we have got to find the money to — that would have come from that — that 1099 provision to make up for it.

So, you know, in creating legislation, you’re going to run into some of those kinds of problems also, but that’s one that, again, we looked at, and we said, you know what, you know, that maybe there’s something here. We need to take a look at it. The president agrees. The Senate and the Congress agrees. And I think that one is going to be one that disappears.

I want you to understand, I’m not saying that there are not regulations that we need to repeal. I’m sure there are. But — but all I’m saying is that we have to make sure that we do this thing in a very comprehensive way. And we need to not only look at the cost, but we have got to see the benefit.

And I don’t know how you put a value on life, such as you — you talk about EPA and those types of regulations that go to the life, health and safety.

Another — another issue that came up over and over again are OSHA regulations. As I said today, people want jobs. In my district, 20 percent, in some instances, of the people in various areas don’t have jobs. I want jobs very — very badly, but I also want — when people go to work, I want to know that they’re going to come home because they’re — they’re working in a safe environment. And I want them to come home safely and not in a coffin.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. On that note, we will leave it.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, we thank you very much for talking with us.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure.