At the White House, Business Finds an Audience for Anti-Regulatory Message

The Business Roundtable, a coalition of top corporate executives, has submitted to the White House a list of laws, regulations, taxes, and other policies it believes are hurting businesses and would like to see rolled back – a roadmap for a dangerous, deregulatory future.

To make matters worse, it appears as though the White House requested this hit list. The list’s cover letter to OMB Director Peter Orszag says, “As a follow-up to your request …for examples of pending legislation and regulations that have a dampening effect on economic growth and job creation…,” and The Washington Post reported that Orszag had made the request at a prior meeting.

The list argues against scores of policies intended to help and protect Americans, including recently passed financial reform and health care laws; greenhouse gas emissions rules; worker health and safety policy (including mine safety); pending food safety and auto safety legislation; government contractor responsibility measures; and even oil spill prevention rules.

Business groups prepare these kinds of hit lists all the time. While there’s no stopping them from developing such lists, it’s a bad sign to see the White House practically giving the Business Roundtable the silver platter on which to present it?

Business Roundtable members then had another meeting with top White House officials, including lead economist Larry Summers and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, the Wall Street Journal reported. The meeting appears to have occurred June 30.

Several days before the meeting, Business Roundtable Chairman and Verizon CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg complained publicly that Obama administration policies were “reaching into virtually every sector of economic life” and hurting businesses in the process.

Considering the timing, it’s not a stretch to think the meeting may have been merely a political calculus – a bone thrown to cranky executives upset with the Obama administration’s efforts to cure some of America’s ills, in order to get Big Business off Obama’s back.

But if so, it’s still bad politics. Because of lax regulation, Wall Street nearly collapsed, sending the economy and job market into a tailspin. Because mine safety regulators were outmanned, an explosion in West Virginia killed 29 miners in April. Because the Interior Department became too cozy with the industry it was supposed to be regulating, the Gulf of Mexico is flooded with oil and the local environment and communities are forever altered.

People affected by these events are not suffering because government has been too zealous. Quite the opposite: they are suffering because government hasn’t done enough to prevent dangers and respond to crises. Could the White House have picked a more insensitive time to appear sympathetic to the complaints of Big Business?

An unfortunate side effect of all this would be if politics turned into policy. To be clear, the White House has not indicated it will adopt any of the Roundtable’s deregulatory recommendations. In a letter to Seidenberg, Jarrett acknowledge that the White House and business leaders are likely to disagree on some regulatory issues. But if the White House decides to pursue the Roundtable’s suggestions, not only would it risk tearing major holes in the public safety net, it would be sending a signal to the American public that government is not on their side.

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