- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The U.S. business community is facing “an epidemic” of regulatory overreach from the Obama administration that is creating uncertainty for corporate leaders and holding back the economic recovery, a top business leader warned Tuesday.

“If you just put the regulatory umbrella up, unfortunately, that regulatory umbrella is blotting out the sun,” Business Roundtable President John Engler said in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “It’s so big.”

The former Michigan governor, a Republican, pointed to many federal agencies that create uncertainty and stunt economic growth, including the National Labor Relations Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Labor Department, Interior Department and State Department.

“It literally is epidemic across the government,” he said.

Mr. Engler singled out the EPA. He said one of the Business Roundtable’s biggest successes of the year was defeating an EPA proposal to lower ozone standards from the current 75 parts per billion. Studies showed it could have cost U.S. businesses anywhere from $19 billion to $90 billion per year to comply with. That, in turn, would have destroyed 7.3 million jobs by 2020.

“Many of their regulations are among the most expensive and apply over the longest period of time,” he said.

The NLRB has also been heavily criticized this year for prosecuting Boeing Co., the world’s largest aerospace manufacturer, in a labor dispute that has been resolved.

The agency accused Boeing of retaliating against its workers in Puget Sound, Wash., for past strikes by building a second plant in South Carolina. Boeing denied the charges, saying it was a smart business decision to move where labor costs are cheaper.

Business leaders said the case created uncertainty for companies that still fear the NLRB could try to relocate them in the future.

To make matters worse, companies are upset that the NLRB also has proposed new rules that would speed up the formation of unions and allow for separate unions within a single business.

“The policymakers need to understand the importance of that uncertainty as it relates to businesses making decisions,” Mr. Engler said.

In the current economy, many companies have enough money to hire, but they are holding out because they fear new regulations could once again bring about bad times.

“You need regulatory policy to give you some certainty and predictability,” he added. “So you don’t make that investment only to find out the rules have changed, the game is different, and the investment decision you made is no longer competitive.”

Mr. Engler said deadlocks in Congress between Democrats and Republicans have also caused unhealthy delays for the economy.

“You cannot just walk away, throw your hands up and say, ‘Well, I can’t do it my way, so therefore, we can’t do anything,’ ” Mr. Engler said.

“You have to stay at this, and the leaders have to make it happen,” he continued.

“I’m very frustrated that we have too many people trying to approach this almost from the perspective ‘my way or the highway.’ “

Mr. Engler pointed the finger at Senate Democrats.

“The reality is Speaker [John A.] Boehner has passed a lot of legislation,” he said. “The Senate hasn’t passed very much.”

A major group of free-trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama was passed this year after a half-decade of negotiations, but it took “way too long,” Mr. Engler said.

“If we look ahead, we need to have a lot more ambition” in the future, he said.

Mr. Engler also expressed disappointment in a lack of movement on the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,700-mile conduit that would extend from Canada to Texas is expected to create some 20,000 jobs, while easing the nation’s dependence on overseas oil. The president was expected to approve it by the end of this year, but now will have to wait a couple more years for the State Department to run additional tests.

“It becomes harder and harder to believe that’s what the president wishes to happen,” Mr. Engler said.

This all adds up to making the U.S. “one of the toughest places in the world” to weed through regulations and do business, according to Mr. Engler.

“Most places you would go and you would find that government and business actually are working together,” he said. “Here, it’s very, very hard to do that.”