- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

On the march to the November elections, President Obama has been painting an optimistic outlook for the economy. On the campaign trail last week, he noted, “People are starting to get a sense that the economy is on the rebound.” Indeed, some indicators point to improvement. The National Federation of Independent Business‘ (NFIB) own monthly optimism index increased last month. But Americans are still downtrodden, and we have heard these same promises for too long. Three years ago, the president said he wouldn’t seek office again if he wasn’t able to turn around the economy, and today’s outlook is worse than it was this time last year. Main Street needs real relief.

The evidence continues to mount that increasing federal regulations are burdening the small-business community and restricting growth in the economy. Findings from a survey released by our coalition, Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations, and conducted by Voter/Consumer Research (VCR) stresses the public’s recognition of the damage that federal regulations cause to small businesses and their receptiveness to meaningful reform.

The VCR surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters nationwide and found a strong majority, 63 percent, think regulations issued in the past five years have done more to harm small businesses than to help. When presented with the numbers, voters were even more demonstrative. For example, 74 percent objected to the fact that more than 4,200 new regulations are pending approval in Washington, and 71 percent responded negatively to the 224 rules sanctioned last year that each carried a price tag of $100 million or more.

Instead of more rules and requirements, voters want to see the government focus on putting people back to work and on helping businesses comply with regulations already in place. An unprecedented majority of 9 out of 10 people favored requiring agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to work with small businesses and help them comply with regulations instead of penalizing them for first-time violations.

Small businesses from coast to coast would welcome such a posture from the federal government. Last week, Gallup released a poll of small-business owners, finding that 85 percent of them were not hiring. Nearly half of those who indicated that they weren’t hiring pointed to government regulations and health care costs as the cause, and nearly 1 in 4 is worried about going out of business within the next year. Additionally, of those who had hired within the past year, 1 in 3 was unable to hire as many workers as needed.

Small businesses are resilient, and in the right environment, they will drive our economy to renewed recovery, a place where we are rightfully optimistic about the future. But creating that atmosphere will require making sensible reforms to the regulatory system. We need more balance and transparency in the rule-making process, more accountability from the agencies making the rules and more opportunity for small businesses to help shape the laws that will affect them.

There is little doubt that Mr. Obama will continue pointing to positive indicators of economic growth. But instead of touting cherry-picked examples, he can create significant momentum now by unshackling the constraints on small-business owners. America is waiting for your leadership, Mr. President.

Dan Danner is the president of the National Federation of Independent Business.