Companies spend millions of dollars each year complaining to Congress about burdensome laws and regulations, pressing their concerns in public campaigns and in private meetings. They rarely wait for invitations.
Last month a senior House Republican, Representative Darrell Issa of California, nevertheless dispatched letters to 150 companies, trade groups and research organizations asking them to identify federal regulations that are restraining economic recovery and job growth.
Mr. Issa, incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the concerns of businesses had been ignored by the Obama administration as it pursued what he described as an unprecedented regulatory expansion.
The responses have been predictable but, in asking, Mr. Issa also is underscoring the commitment of the new House majority to help business by curtailing government.
“A lot of people have felt shut out of the process the last few years, and they have welcomed the opportunity to give input,” said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Mr. Issa.
The rejoinder from Democrats perhaps also was predictable.
“This is even more evidence that House Republicans are in the business of protecting corporate special interests instead of creating middle-income jobs,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement.
Others were harsher: “Rather than providing a platform for presentation of a corporate wish list, Representative Issa should be subjecting corporate claims to the withering scrutiny he promises for the Obama administration,” the consumer group Public Citizen said in a statement.” It’s time we ended the Kabuki theater of corporate whining, and got on with the serious business of creating jobs and making America safer and cleaner.”
The Obama administration has indeed significantly expanded federal oversight in areas including finance, health care and food production, and it has increased enforcement of existing regulations in a wider range of areas. The effort has been hailed by consumer groups as a necessary corrective to years of regulatory leniency. But business groups have countered that the measures will reduce profits, impede innovation and limit job creation.
Respondents to Mr. Issa’s letter said they generally focused on their own industries. Financial companies cited price controls on debit card transactions. Manufacturers highlighted new oversight of emissions.
But several groups said they saw an important opportunity to focus attention on the cumulative impact of all those regulations.
Rosario A. Palmieri, vice president of regulatory policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said the weight of regulation had reached an unprecedented level. He noted that Mr. Issa’s committee had a broad mandate to turn its investigative resources on almost any subject, providing a rare opportunity for a wide-angle focus.
“We need to look government-wide at the cost of regulation and its impact on industry. Few take so broad a look at regulation. Mostly they review the individual agencies or program areas. So this particular review could be very promising because of its ability to look at the cumulative burden of regulation,” Mr. Palmieri said.
In the letters, Mr. Issa said that federal agencies promulgated 43 “major” regulations in the last fiscal year, which he said would impose a cost on business of $28 billion. He described that as the largest increase in federal regulation in a single year.
He asked recipients to identify “existing and proposed regulations that negatively impact the economy and jobs.” The existence of the letters was reported earlier by Politico.
Mr. Bardella said that Mr. Issa reached out regularly to industry and other groups. He said that the responses to these letters would be compiled and shared with the public, but that it was impossible to say what other action might be taken.
Reed D. Rubinstein, a regulatory counsel at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said that the group hoped the letters were an indication that Congress was taking more seriously its responsibility to oversee the work of regulatory agencies.
“What’s heartening to me at least, is that Congress is beginning to pay attention again to vetting regulation,” Mr. Rubinstein said. “You have a very activist administration and you have statutes that are very broad, allowing agencies to do what they see fit, and it’s really a perfect storm. It’s really unprecedented.”
Mr. Issa’s interest in regulatory burden is part of a broader agenda for his committee that he began to describe in greater detail this week. In a series of Twitter posts, he listed topics including corruption in Afghanistan, the mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the handling of food and drug recalls.
In the posts, Mr. Issa described those topics as an “initial oversight investigations lineup,” but Mr. Bardella said Tuesday that those areas would not necessarily become the subjects of investigations. He said they were simply topics of interest.
Other subjects on the list include WikiLeaks and the performance of the commission appointed by Congress to write a history of the financial crisis.
Democrats are gearing up too, passing over two more senior members to select Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, regarded as a more effective foil to Mr. Issa’s ambitions, as the new ranking member of the oversight committee.
Mr. Cummings, in turn, hired as his staff director David Rapallo, a veteran Congressional investigator with previous experience working for the committee when Democrats were in the minority.
He was most recently an official on the National Security Council.