|Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants the oil industry, drug manufacturers and other trade groups and companies to tell him which Obama administration regulations to target this year.|
The incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee - in letters sent to more than 150 trade associations, companies and think tanks last month - requested a list of existing and proposed regulations that would harm job growth.
"It was a broad net that we cast," Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella said.
Bardella did not have a complete list of groups that received an inquiry from Issa or their responses.
But a partial list obtained by POLITICO includes ones sent Dec. 13 to Duke Energy, the Association of American Railroads, FMC Corp., Toyota and Bayer. Others receiving inquiries from Issa over the course of the month included the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) and entities representing health care and telecommunication providers.
The goal is to investigate the Obama administration's promise through the 2009 economicstimulus bill and other measures to create jobs, which "has gone unfilled, I guess is the nicest way to put it," Bardella said.
"Is there something that we can do to try to ease that [regulatory] burden and stimulate job creation?" he added. "Is there a pattern emerging? Is there a consistent practice or regulation that hurts jobs? Until you have all the facts, you really can't make a lot of determinations and judgments."
At the same time, Issa is getting his cue from and a voice to a chorus of largely disgruntled industry groups and companies that have collectively groaned about regulations in the pipeline and on the books.
"I believe for the last couple of years that we were honestly shut out of this debate at least on the House side," NPRA President Charles Drevna said. "Our policy positions haven't changed one iota. [But] is there a better chance of what I would consider a more fair hearing? Absolutely." Drevna received a letter from Issa late last month.
Issa has no qualms about giving Drevna and other administration critics a louder mouthpiece.
"As a trade organization with members that must comply with the regulatory state, I ask for your assistance in identifying existing and proposed regulations that have negatively impacted job growth in your members' industry," Issa wrote in a Dec. 8 letter to NAM. "Additionally, suggestions on reforming identified regulations and the rulemaking process would be appreciated."
The letter to NAM is a template for ones Issa sent other groups over the course of last month. In the NAM letter, Issa notes that federal agencies in fiscal year 2010 "promulgated 43 new regulations" ranging from new limits on "effluent" discharges from construction sites to rules for Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations. The "effluent" rule, Issa charged, will cost $810.8 million annually, resulting in the closure of 147 construction firms and the loss of 7,257 jobs.
The list of regulatory grievances appears wide-ranging.
Rosario Palmieri, NAM’s vice president for regulatory policy, and Drevna both highlighted EPA greenhouse gas controls for major emitters that went into effect Sunday.
Palmieri said the group also highlighted in their response to Issa upcoming EPA decisions over whether to tighten limits on ground-level ozone and controlling hazardous air pollutants from incinerators and boilers.
Many Democrats and the environmental community certainly would push back on efforts to rein in EPA greenhouse and other controls simply in the name of preserving jobs. "The Clean Air Act is one of job creation, not job destruction, plain and simple," said Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund. These controls give companies "the lead time and certainty to invest and bring products to the market and actually create jobs."
NAM's "high-priority" regulatory list also includes OSHA consultation, noise and other policies, upcoming Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission controls regarding over-the-counter derivatives, Transportation Department limits on hours of service for truck drivers, and implementing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush.
"These are all high-priority regulations that can cost manufacturing jobs and will if implemented the wrong way or will as currently proposed or finalized," Palmieri said. "We're anxious for some oversight of these programs."
He said there is a growing voice from "members on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, recognizing that the cumulative burden of regulation is a real problem and if we want to create more jobs and improve this economy, we need to get a handle on it."
Democrats, though, see this as a way for Issa to turn a partisan corner and dig his heels into attacking the administration in the next Congress.
"He's going about it in a way that's not gathering a lot of attention," said one Democratic committee aide. "This is where they're starting to cross the line into the political. They're definitely setting up this committee to go after the administration."
One person knowledgeable about the matter tells POLITICO that Issa on Dec. 29 appears to have re-sent more than 75 letters to administration officials.
Bardella acknowledged that Issa re-sent a host of unanswered missives recently. "This is something we've been working on since the election," he said. "Before we start something new, we want to get answers to the questions that have been ignored."
This includes past letters to Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and White House Counsel Robert Bauer regarding reports by POLITICO and others about the use of official travel for political purposes. In his letter to Bauer, Issa notes he wrote last June to the heads of 21 federal departments and agencies "requesting documents and information about the extent to which White House political personnel have been involved with planning, directing, or coordinating the travel of department and agency officials to participate in official or political public events."
Issa said that former Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) did a similar probe of Bush administration officials in the prior Congress.
A letter from Issa and top Judiciary Committee Republican Lamar Smith initially sent Dec. 16, 2009, to Attorney General Eric Holder forwards information Republicans on those two panels received into the activities of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, and reiterating the Republicans' request for a Justice Department criminal investigation.
Another letter initially sent in October 2009 to Holder asks about "new media efforts [that] may be covertly attempting to shape public opinion," citing reports that Justice officials were anonymously posting online comments attacking critics of the administration.
One initially sent Oct. 15, 2009, asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to clarify a letter he sent Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Issa's request followed a story by POLITICO at the time indicating that then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel coordinated an "assault" on Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and other administration critics by having Salazar and three other cabinet secretaries write letters to Brewer asking if she "wished to forfeit taxpayer money directed to Arizona by the stimulus" bill, Issa wrote.
Democrats are labeling the inquiries as partisan in tone, which Bardella dismisses. "Asking a question shouldn't be labeled partisan or political," he said. "The most constructive way forward would be to resubmit the questions, which we fully expect to be answered, and then, hopefully, move on."