Lawmakers push to free small businesses from costly regs

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Industry representatives agreed with Bachus's prediction that the bill would help the economy by allowing small businesses to grow and hire new workers.

"With Main Street still struggling to regain its footing, Congress needs to take steps to address the growing regulatory burden on small business," Karen Harned, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said on Friday. "The proposed reforms in this legislation are a good first step."

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the Small Business Committee, is another sponsor of the bill.

"Because small businesses bear a regulatory cost that is much higher than the cost of compliance for large businesses, the government should closely examine the impacts of the regulation before they are finalized," he said in a statement.

The Small Business Committee is considering marking up the legislation in July.

A similar bill passed the House last Congress but died in the Senate.

That should give legislators the hint that pushing for it again is a waste of time, said Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee.

"It is indeed 'Groundhog Day' and I am playing the role of Bill Murray," Cohen said. "The fact is we're repeating and rehashing the same stuff over and over here."

President Obama had pledged to veto the previous bill if it ever made it to his desk.

In a statement at the time, the White House said the legislation would "create needless regulatory and legal uncertainty and increase costs for businesses and further impede the implementation of commonsense protections for the American public." 

Under current rules, three agencies are required to convene a panel to review rules expected to have a significant impact on small businesses: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The new bill would expand that requirement to rules from all agencies that would significantly impact either small businesses or the economy in general.

Opponents claim the standard would make it longer and more costly to issue new rules.

"This new mandate without administrative funding represents a massive expansion over the current system and in no way targets rules that have small business impacts," said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate with the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen.

The bill also requires agencies to calculate the "indirect" costs to small business of new rules, which opponents said was too sweeping a requirement.

The co-chairmen of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, an alliance of consumer interest groups, sent a letter to Cohen and Bachus on Thursday opposing the measure.

"Because the bill defines 'indirect effects' broadly, this bill would mandate wasteful new analyses that could be applied to virtually any action an agency attempts to undertake, no matter how tenuous the connection to small business interests," they wrote.

Narang and Harned pushed the panel to make agencies beef up their compliance assistance programs, which help small businesses understand regulations affecting them and how to adhere to them. They said those programs had been neglected.

"Within the agencies, what we have actually seen over the last few years is agencies' budgets have diverted resources from their compliance assistance programs, like in the case of OSHA for assistance, to enforcement," Harned said.

-- This story was updated at 1:46 p.m.