Government regulation could be Democrats’ Achilles heel in 2012

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As President Obama makes his case for why Congress should spend $450 billion in an attempt to jumpstart a maddeningly sluggish economy, voters are beginning to send a different message: government should get out of the way and let job creators do their jobs.

New data released by Public Notice reveals that one of the greatest hurdles facing the president and Congress as they gear up for a contentious 2012 election is this: while the president urges action on the economy, his own administration is imposing new regulations that even administration officials admit will lead to massive job losses. And as America’s unemployment crisis continues to drag down Obama’s approval ratings, the public is waking up to just how much government regulations hit their wallets and hurt American job creation.

Though government regulation may seem like an arcane topic, the latest research shows that voters are increasingly viewing it as a pocketbook issue, with 74 percent believing businesses and consumers are over-regulated. This issue cuts across party lines, with a majority of Democrats and 75 percent of independent voters thinking government is far too intrusive. Considering that independents will sway the next election, how regulatory issues are addressed in Washington in the coming months may have a major impact on how the 2012 races shape up.

The White House clearly views these issues as a potential Achilles’ heel in 2012, which is why Obama recently appointed a regulatory “czar” to cut government red tape. But the president’s reforms will yield a paltry $10 billion in savings, less than a drop in a bucket given the trillions in regulatory costs imposed on Americans each year. This perhaps helps explain the highly public cease-and-desist order the administration gave Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, urging the postponement of job-impacting ozone rules. Take these factors into consideration, and it’s clear why the president and his advisers are paying attention to regulatory issues heading into the president’s reelection campaign.

Americans know the difference between necessary regulations — those that ensure that lead paint stays out of children’s toys or that deadly toxins don’t contaminate our drinking water — and those that don’t pass the common-sense test. That’s why people are so outraged over the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) suit against Boeing. For those unfamiliar with the case, in April the NLRB filed a complaint against Boeing alleging it had opened a new manufacturing plant for its state-of-the-art Dreamliner aircraft in the right-to-work state of South Carolina in retaliation for previous union strikes at its main facility in Washington State. This is after Boeing invested a $1 billion and hired thousands of workers to get the South Carolina facility online.

When voters are presented with the facts, they overwhelmingly side with Boeing, with 78 percent believing an employer should have the right to open a plant in any state.

Some Democrats have been trying to make the NLRB’s overreach a non-issue, but the public isn’t buying it. The issues at play here go well beyond mere nuisance regulations: issues of fairness, the dangerous precedent being set by the NLRB and concerns over the administration’s attempts to circumvent the will of the people by pushing unpopular regulations that Congress would never approve. Survey respondents view this case as the most egregious example of a government succumbing to the pressure of union leaders and punishing an employer eager to add thousands of new jobs.

Government regulations create costs for businesses. Those costs are usually passed down to consumers, resulting in higher prices. However, regulations also make American businesses less competitive in the global marketplace, as U.S.-made goods become more expensive, destroying jobs here at home and forcing companies to either shut down or move overseas. Indeed, in our survey, 70 percent of voters said that increased federal regulations will result in more jobs being outsourced.

As the House prepares to vote on a bill reversing the Boeing decision and on other measures to free American employers and consumers from the burdens of harmful regulations, members of Congress, especially those in key battleground states, would be wise to heed the warning signs.

Gretchen Hamel is the executive director of Public Notice, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing facts and insight on the effects public policy has on Americans’ financial well-being. Nicholas Thompson is vice president of the Tarrance Group, a strategic research and polling firm.