In the lead-up to this week’s one-year anniversary, the Obama Administration made what seemed to be a last ditch effort to compensate for and distract from its largely unfulfilled calls to action. On January 6, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs directed agencies to provide the public with brief, straightforward executive summaries of all complex and lengthy rules.  Cass Sunstein, the President’s top regulatory administrator, noted on the White House blog that “the use of clear, simple executive summaries will make it far easier for members of the public to understand and to scrutinize proposed rules.” If in actuality the rule is applied and enforced across agencies, it will be a step in the right direction. But as we saw last year, talk without action only makes situations worse.

In similar fashion, on Friday January 13, the president unveiled a proposal to consolidate six relatively small federal agencies into one large, cabinet-level department. Pitched as a way to reduce government bureaucracy, the move stands in contrast with the administration’s decisions on other issues that could cut through red tape much more easily. Just the day before the announcement the President requested $1.2 trillion to raise the debt limit for more government spending. And by its own accounting, since taking office the Administration has created complex regulations costing over $40 billion annually. If the president truly wanted to give a break to small businesses, without the political showmanship, he could simply rein in the rate at which new regulations are being written.
Business owners need concrete action they can stand on. That’s why last November, along with former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), I sent a letter to President Obama on behalf of the NFIB and the Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations coalition, which represents the interests of our 350,000 members across the country. We called for a halt to all new regulations until six commonsense reforms are made to the regulatory system. The principles we proposed include:
×          Conducting a cost-benefit analysis of every new major regulation
×          Using validated science and data as the basis for new rules
×          Giving small businesses a great voice throughout the rulemaking process
×          Providing assistance to businesses who make a good-faith effort to meet requirements before assigning penalties
×          Requiring more transparency and accountability at every level of the regulatory system
Many of the changes we suggested mirrored in the president’s own Executive Orders and other regulatory guidelines.
Additionally, in December Congress approved with bipartisan support three regulatory reform bills. If signed into law, they collectively would help lawmakers ensure more sensible regulations that don’t hinder growth and job creation at a time when we desperately need it. They require lawmakers to weigh the long-term benefits of rules against their full costs, hold agencies more accountable for those they propose, and invite more public participation throughout the rulemaking process; all sensible provisions that would provide meaningful change for small businesses and the economy.
As we look to the year ahead, we are reminded there is a lot yet left to do to provide businesses the relief they need and help get our economy back on a path of recovery. But far from the polarized calls-to-arms, reforming the rulemaking process will hinge on striking common ground and pursuing sensible, productive opportunities. Just as the president noted, we all want to see small businesses succeed, and our communities and the environment thrive. By restoring balance to the regulatory process we can achieve both.  That is progress we can all support.
Dan Danner is the president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business