GOP bets on regulations backlash

GOP bets on regulations backlash
© Greg Nash

The GOP is taking its crusade against Obama administration regulations to the voters, viewing the party’s efforts to curb federal rulemaking as a winning issue for the election.

Republican lawmakers who returned to their home states and districts this week to campaign are citing their opposition to federal red tape early and often as they seek to protect the GOP’s House majority and reclaim Senate control.

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“Over-regulation is always a good message for us,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. “Regulation is another word for something that comes between you and a job. Regulations make your paychecks smaller — because someone has to pay for them.”

A June survey conducted by Republican pollster McLaughlin and Associates found that nearly three-quarters of voters believe Congress should review the federal rulemaking process and withhold funding in order to block the “hidden taxes” passed on to consumers.

More than two-thirds of voters approved of a freeze on new regulations, according to the online survey of 1,000 likely voters that was commissioned by the groupRegulation Watch.

Defenders of stronger regulations object to the “hidden taxes” characterization, arguing that agencies are obligated to draft rules in accordance with the laws passed by Congress. They point to polling that shows the public generally supports protections for health and safety.

Pro-regulation advocates are urging Democrats to embrace the fight by pushing back on the GOP’s talk of “job killing regulations.”

“They make it about red tape and they make it very generic,” said University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor, who serves as president of the Center for Progressive Reform. “That doesn’t play well when you ask voters about specific issues.”

A coalition of public interest groups pointed to a recent poll from Lake Research Partners that found overwhelming support for stronger regulations. The survey, conducted at the behest of the Enforcement Working Group, found that more than 70 percent of voters believe that increased enforcement laws and regulations on the books is a good thing.

Public interest groups have also assailed a study on the cost of federal regulation that was released in the final days before Congress adjourned until after the elections.

The National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) study placed the annual price tag at over $2 trillion dollars.

Critics faulted the study for relying on metrics based on public perception of the cost and for failing to account for economic benefits of federal rules.

NAM president Jay Timmons stood behind the analysis and said he hopes it plays into the midterm campaign.

"If it helps shape the debate for the elections, then all the better," Timmons told The Hill upon the study’s release this month.

Republicans are banking on a general perception among voters that regulations are bad for business and the economy, and are eager to highlight what they’re doing about it.

The GOP’s 62-page official party platform contains no fewer than 34 references to the toll of regulations and the need to reform the rule-making system. In the document, the party grants that many regulations, like those meant to ensure the safety of food and medicine, are necessary.

“But no peril justifies the regulatory impact of ObamaCare on the practice of medicine, the Dodd-Frank Act on financial services or the EPA’s and OSHA’s overreaching regulation agenda,” states the platform, adopted ahead of the last elections. “A Republican Congress and president will repeal the first and second, and rein in the third.”

House Republicans sought this month to shine up their credentials on regulations with passage of a largely symbolic package of bills taking direct aim at agency rule-making.

Included in the legislative bundle was the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require congressional sign-off on the costliest regulations, and the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act, which would force additional analysis before rules are issued and public disclosure of their “true cost.”

The bill would also repeal the Affordable Care Act’s regulation defining a 30-hour workweek as full-time employment, and contains language ensuring the rules enacted under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law don’t divert capital from small businesses.

As the focus turned this week from Washington to the campaign trail, GOP candidates ratcheted up their attacks on the Democratic Party’s support for “burdensome” rules.

Rep. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDems look to use Moore against GOP McConnell: 'No change of heart' on Roy Moore US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (R-Colo.), who is challenging Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (D-Colo.) in one of the country’s most closely watched races, put the spotlight on regulations this week in the GOP’s response to President Obama’s weekly address to the nation.

“Putting an end to the regulatory overreach would help areas of Colorado and our country that continue to struggle,” Gardner said, accusing Democrats of blocking energy production with overly burdensome regulations. “In fact, constituents regularly tell me we need more Colorado in Washington and less Washington in Colorado.”

For his part, Udall has promoted an approach to energy policy that balances responsible domestic energy production with environmental concerns.

Steinzor said Democratic candidates would be well served to move the debate away from regulations in the abstract “and talk about clean air and clean water” that the rules are intended to preserve.

“It’s very fashionable inside the Beltway to talk about pro-regulation and ant-regulation,” she lamented. 

Still she said she doesn’t view the fight over regulations as a top-tier issue.

The GOP shows no sign of backing away from its messaging strategy. Last month, the RNC began circulating a petition against adding regulations restricting the upstart car service Uber.

The campaign is seen as a way of highlighting the party’s opposition to onerous rules, while making in-roads to younger voters with whom Uber is popular.

Kukowski, the RNC spokeswoman, said the initiative is part of the party’s push to highlight the “real-life impact” of regulations on Americans.

“That’s a big reason we launched our Uber petition in August and you’ll be seeing more from us over the next month to talk about the Democrat party as the party of red tape and government standing in the way,” she said.