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Chamber launches assault on red tape

Greg Nash

Backed by a new GOP-controlled Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to launch a fresh assault on the federal rule-making process in 2015.

Chamber President Thomas Donohue said Tuesday that it’s time to modernize a process that hasn’t been reformed since the Truman administration, calling for passage of long-stalled legislation designed to tamp down on agency power.

“Business recognizes the need for smart regulations,” Donohue said during his annual State of American Business address. “But with a $2 trillion price tag in compliance costs imposed by a virtual fourth branch of government, it’s time to bring the system into the 21st century.”

He cheered Tuesday’s passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would require federal agencies to estimate the economic cost of rules and take other steps before imposing regulations.

The measure sailed through the House, and Donohue said it’s already gaining traction in the upper chamber — where such measures had gone to die before Republicans wrested control of the Senate from Democrats in November’s elections.

“We’ve had a lot of indication in the Senate of interest for this reform process,” he said. “I’m not worried about the president’s suggestion that he’s going to veto it. I mean, that’s part of the negotiations process,” he said.

Whether or not the GOP is able to clamp down on the rule-making process, the Chamber says it has another venue to take aim at what it says are costly, burdensome rules, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals to tighten the ozone standard and assert its jurisdiction over smaller bodies of water.

“We will be extremely busy in the courts,” Donohue said of 2015. “Last year, the Chamber’s Litigation Center filed a record number of briefs in federal and state courts, and we’ll likely surpass that record this year.” 

Immigration reform, cybersecurity information-sharing legislation and amending financial regulatory laws will also be among the chamber’s top policy priorities for the year.

Restoring the Affordable Care Act’s definition for full-time back to a 40-hour workweek, making changes to Dodd-Frank and lobbying for Congress to pass a trade promotion authority bill to fast-track trade deals were also on the laundry list of initiatives the Chamber plans to undertake.

Donohue has also signaled that the Chamber would be vocal during a looming tax reform debate.

“The Chamber plans to be at the table on the theory that if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,” he said. “We will not support an approach that uses tax reform as an excuse” to raise taxes on the business community.”

One tax the chamber is pushing to increase, however, is the federal gas tax. Donohue said revenue generated from a 10- or 20-cent raise could be used to fund infrastructure improvements. 

“What’s needed here is the realization that there are a lot of holes in the road, a lot of bridges that don’t work and pretty soon we’re going to have a crisis,” he said. “We need a way to pay for this.”