Former senator is a Democratic voice in the push for regulatory reform

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) has enlisted a former Senate Democrat as a key weapon in the lobbying group’s battle against a flood of regulations that its members say is stifling economic growth.

As the face of the NFIB’s Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations project, former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is striving to build support for changes to the much-maligned federal rulemaking process.

“There’s a tremendous outcry over the regulatory environment in Washington,” Lincoln said. “The process is broken. We’re not adhering to the right principals.”

Throughout President Obama’s first term, the fight over regulations largely pitted Republicans who were critical of new rules against Democrats who said they provided necessary protections to the public’s health and safety.

Lincoln could help change that narrative by emphasizing the issue transcends politics, said Dan Bosch, the NFIB’s manager of regulatory policy.

“A lot of people, certainly within Washington, consider this a partisan issue,” said Bosch, who argued that that perception evaporates outside Washington, where regulations hit business owners of all political stripes.

The project was launched almost two years ago, as worries over the proliferation of Obama administration regulations were on the upsurge. Now, under Lincoln’s leadership, the project is pushing a set of recommendations that she said would ease the burden of new rules and give businesses greater sway over the process.

In addition to her work for the NFIB, Lincoln is listed as a lobbyist for Wal-Mart at the firm Alston & Bird, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

There are several bills now pending before Congress that would overhaul the rulemaking system, ranging from measures that would give lawmakers the power to veto major rules to a push to limit the regulatory authority of certain agencies.

But passage is assured for none of the bills, and Lincoln said there are steps the administration can take without congressional action.

Lincoln said the federal agencies should allow for public comment on all rules. A Government Accountability Office report released last December found that agencies did not issue a notice of its intention to publish a new rule more for more than a third of the regulations published between 2003 and 2010.

The number is even higher – 44 percent – for “major” rules – those that carry an annual price tag of at least $100 million, the report found.

The figures are evidence of a frequent disconnect between regulators and the people who must comply with the rules they write, Lincoln said.

Lincoln also said the administration should direct agencies to disclose the data and methodology they use to weigh the costs of new rules they intend to adopt, and they should publicly report those costs as part of the process.

Bosch said regulations rank second on the list of obstacles to increased economic growth, behind only taxes, in recent surveys of NFIB members. He cited labor, environmental and healthcare rules as being among the most problematic.

Lincoln, who was seen as one of the most moderate Democrats in Congress during the two terms each she served in the House and the Senate, defended her vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

“We had to do something,” she said.

She said the lawmakers always knew that the sweeping legislation would involve the creation of many new rules and regulations, but that the challenge now is to limit the pain they inflict on businesses.

Lincoln declined to pin blame for the private sector’s regulatory woes on Obama. She said the problem has been building over the course of at least the last three presidential administrations.

The result is a glut of rules that may have served a purpose at one time, but are now obsolete. Last year, Obama directed agencies to scour their entire portfolio of existing rules, identify any unnecessary or overly burdensome regulations and root them out.

The administration has said the initiative has produced some 500 reform proposals from across the federal government. As a result, the White House anticipates savings of more than $10 billion in the near term.

That isn’t enough, Lincoln said.

“We’ve got some housecleaning to do,” she said.