House GOP revs up a repeal, reduce and rein-in agenda for the fall

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the U.S. unemployment rate has exceeded 9 percent for more than two years. The rate has been at 9 percent or more for 25 of the past 27 months. This version has been updated.


Flanked by young gun fiscal conservatives of the republican party, Leader of the House Eric Cantor (R-VA), left, and House Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), right, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to journalists after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House concerning the 2011 debt ceiling and budget negotiations, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (Melina Mara/THE WASHINGTON POST)
August 28, 2011

House Republicans are planning votes for almost every week this fall in an effort to repeal environmental and labor requirements on business that they say have hampered job growth.

With everyone from President Obama to his Republican challengers in the 2012 campaign focusing on ways to spur economic growth, House Republicans will roll out plans Monday to fight regulations from the National Labor Relations Board, pollution rules handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency and regulations that affect health plans for small businesses. In addition, the lawmakers plan to urge a 20 percent tax deduction for small businesses.

“It is essential that the House continue our focus on the jobs crisis,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) wrote in a memo to be sent to GOP lawmakers Monday.

The push for a jobs agenda comes as Obama, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and others plan to present their own jobs agendas just after Labor Day.

In mid-August, shortly after lawmakers agreed on a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, just 13 percent of voters in a Gallup poll approved of the job Congress was doing, a record low.

Some Republican strategists have been warning party leaders that the focus on cutting spending is not resonating with independent voters who are most concerned about a sagging economy and an unemployment rate that has exceeded 9 percent or more for 25 of the past 27 months.

The effort to cut regulations, which House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) alerted Obama to in a letter Friday, is likely to meet stiff resistance from the Democratic-controlled Senate. And liberal activists have accused Republicans of exaggerating the impact the rules have on job growth and discounting their health benefits.

“They save lives and reduce illness. Less pollution, for instance, means fewer cases of asthma and lung disease. Having safer toys on store shelves means fewer children dying after choking on small parts,” said Public Citizen, a liberal watchdog group.

In Wyoming last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the tools to boost an economic recovery are “outside the province of the central bank,” suggesting that Congress and Obama must find the right mix of fiscal policy.

In his letter, Boehner asked the president to report “all pending and planned rulemakings” that would have an impact of more than $1 billion on the economy.

The Cantor memo provided additional details on the regulatory focus. The week of Sept. 12, House Republicans will try to overrule an NLRB ruling that restricts Boeing’s effort to transfer an assembly line from Washington state to South Carolina. Business leaders accuse the Obama administration of interfering to try to help their labor allies, because South Carolina is a right-to-work state with fewer unions. Labor leaders say the aerospace company is seeking a spot for cheaper labor.

The next month or so will focus on EPA regulations. House Republicans would pull back an effort to regulate coal ash in mining-heavy states that they say would hinder concrete production and cost more than 100,000 jobs. Through the fall and winter, Cantor said, the caucus will vote on at least 10 regulations that committee chairmen have identified as “costly bureaucratic handcuffs that Washington has imposed upon business.”

The result of these votes is likely to mirror failed efforts this year to repeal landmark legislation that was approved during Obama’s first two years in office — his health-care law and the Dodd-Frank consumer protection bill — but it will provide a framework for Republicans to highlight a jobs agenda. Also, leaders have pushed several of their freshman lawmakers to advance the anti-regulation bills, providing the newcomers with a chance to tout proposals that could resonate with voters in their districts.

This is at least the second such push for a jobs agenda by House Republicans this year, the most recent occurring in late May, when Boehner and Cantor packaged several old proposals to rein in regulations and reduce corporate taxes. That effort stalled, and the rest of the summer was consumed by the debt-ceiling standoff.

Republicans also plan to urge some tax proposals, including their long-standing support for a plan that would allow businesses with fewer than 500 employees to deduct 20 percent of their annual income. This proposal was part of their Pledge to America, a campaign-style manifesto that was announced just before the 2010 midterm elections.

In addition, Republicans plan to vote on terminating a requirement set to take effect in 2013 that will require federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of contractor payments worth more than $100 million. The legislation, which has been delayed several times, has come under fire from government contractors who contend it will cause cash-flow problems.

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
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