WASHINGTON (AP) – The National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business are working to make the anti-regulatory fervor their members share an issue in the last weeks of the campaign.
The chamber and the manufacturers group have taken out issue ads saying the expense to business in complying with federal regulations is killing job creation. NFIB local affiliates are conducting tours and news conferences to let small business owners present their personal stories.
The NFIB hired former Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas to coordinate the anti-regulatory campaign. So far the federation has endorsed only two Democratic candidates for Congress compared with at least 30 in the GOP.
"I don't think it's a partisan issue," Lincoln maintained in an interview. "There's reasonable compromise to be had here."
Lincoln was defeated in 2010 by Republican John Boozman, who made her vote in favor of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul a major issue in his campaign.
The GOP-run House passed a stream of anti-regulation bills over the past 21 months, only to see most of them die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Two Republican bills did become law. One repealed a small business paperwork requirement in Obama's health care overhaul law and another rescinded several rules arising out of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law regulating the financial industry.
The effort, however, has had a more widespread impact. The Obama administration abandoned or delayed a multitude of regulatory proposals, such as cracking down on junk food at school bake sales, banning children from dangerous farm work and setting federal standards for disposing of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants.
Responding to House Republicans' steady equation of regulations with job losses, the administration ordered its own review of federal rules, guidelines and standards. Hundreds of them have been scrapped.
While Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has promised in many campaign speeches to "get the government out of the way," his only mention of regulations in his nomination acceptance speech was in a single paragraph.
He promised to "champion small businesses," adding: "That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most. And it means that we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of health care by repealing and replacing Obamacare."
Obama responded in two separate portions in his acceptance speech:
"After all that we've been through, I don't believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand, or the laid-off construction worker to keep his home. We've been there, we've tried that, and we're not going back."
And: "Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing. If you can't afford health insurance, hope that you don't get sick. If a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that's just the price of progress. You know what? That's not who we are. That's not what this country's about."
Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said RNC campaign mailings will include, as part of the message, the need to prevent regulations that harm businesses.
The NFIB campaign is targeting voters in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. So far, it has endorsed eight Senate candidates and two dozen candidates for the House. All are Republicans except for incumbent Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson in Utah and Mike McIntyre in North Carolina.
Despite the endorsement lineup so far, the small business group's senior vice president of public policy, Susan Eckerly, insisted it's not a Republican campaign organization and said she's certain there are plenty of Democrats in the organizations comprising the federation's "sensible regulations" coalition.
The National Association of Manufacturers has made "six-figure" television ad buys in Ohio asking Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown to "Say No to New Regulations." Brown is opposed by Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel.
"We're exploring other opportunities for advocacy in other states," said NAM spokesman Matt Lavoie.
The Chamber of Commerce's last ads mentioning regulations were in July. They targeted the records of Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Jon Tester of Montana and Brown of Ohio and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic Senate candidate in Wisconsin.
Lincoln maintains the regulation issue is "seeping down" to voters beyond pro-business Republicans. The paucity of polling on the issue makes that difficult to verify.
A July poll by CBS and The New York Times found 49 percent said the federal government regulates business too much these days. Twenty-two percent said it regulates business too little and 19 percent said the right amount. In a February 2011 poll, 45 percent said the government regulates business too much, while in February 2009, just 28 percent felt the government encroaches too much on business.
The experience of Dale Kaplan, owner of a dry cleaning business in the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pa., shows the difficulty of convincing those not directly affected that they should care about federal rules.
Kaplan said he's voting for Romney because, he believes, Obama's Environmental Protection Agency wants "to regulate me out of business." Active in an employer's advisory group on regulations, Kaplan said fellow dry cleaners feel the same way because of strict rules for cleaning solution.
"It definitely has much more impact on people like myself in chemical-using industries," he said.
His customers, Kaplan said, are more inclined to talk about their economic struggles in a more general way, saying how they come in less frequently to get clothes cleaned, hold on to their clothes rather than buying new outfits and even ask him to press rather than clean garments because it's cheaper.
There are some indications that traditional Democrats are upset with the Obama administration's regulations. While most unions have endorsed the Democratic president, the United Mine Workers of America has withheld its support so far because of stringent proposed EPA rules that, the union fears, could cost jobs.
Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith said the EPA proposals "make it very difficult for our members to feel comfortable with supporting an administration that is embarking on that path."
"The alternative is no good either," he said, referring to Romney. "Our members recognize this as well. We're stuck between a rock and a hard place."
Other unions are standing with Obama despite concerns about specific regulations.
Daniel Hoppes, who heads Local 293 in Nebraska of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said his members who work in the meat industry are concerned about regulations sending more corn for use in ethanol rather than leaving it for livestock.
That and the drought could lead to employee cutbacks down the road, he said, but his local's members see the drought as the bigger problem.
"I don't see them blaming Obama," Hoppes said. "Most of my members are supportive of Barack Obama as president. Of course, I'm a union guy."
National Federation of Independent Business coalition, www.sensibleregulations.org
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