Obama Extends Helping Hand to Businesses

As the 2012 election looms, the White House tries to mend fences by delaying government rules that might lead to layoffs and cut investment.

The business sector can expect some regulatory relief from the Obama administration this year and next. But the effort will be short-lived.

Some regulations already in the pipeline for approval will be delayed, allowing time for employer input and for additional analysis of costs and the potential impact. And some rules already on the books will be reexamined. Government agencies have until the end of July to give the Office of Management and Budget a list of regulations in need of streamlining.

Next year’s election is behind the review. The White House is concerned about the effect of burdensome, costly rules on hiring and business investment as President Obama gears up his campaign for a second term. In addition to the prospect of boosting employment, the move to dial back on some rules will help the president mend political fences.

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Here are some of the regulations being slowed:

● A rule requiring most derivatives to be traded on exchanges will be postponed until Dec. 31 or later. It was slated to take effect in mid-July, as part of the broad financial overhaul package that Congress approved last year.

● A plan to prevent federally insured banks from proprietary trading. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is pushing to give banks wider latitude in managing their assets, though opponents say such a move would render the rule meaningless.

● Tougher clean air rules for industrial and commercial boilers. Retrofitting or shutting down steam generators to meet new air quality standards would cost billions of dollars and would put jobs at risk.

● Tighter limits on mountaintop mining for coal. The rules, if enacted, would eliminate many coal mining jobs in West Virginia, a state that Obama lost in 2008.

● New controls on the disposal of coal ash from power plants. If implemented, utilities would face higher operating costs to truck the ash to specially designed facilities.

The administration will also scale back a rule making it easier for individuals to appeal when insurance companies deny coverage of health care claims and will give employers a bigger say in other health rules that are wending their way through the approval process.

But the pro-business bent won’t last. Most of the regulations that are being slow-walked through the bureaucracy eventually will be implemented if Obama wins another four-year stay in the White House.

And a number of other rules that businesses oppose won’t be delayed, especially those that are viewed as worker-friendly. Among them: Workplace injury standards, overtime pay rules and limits on the number of hours that long-haul truckers must rest between shifts.

The National Labor Relations Board will also remain firmly on the side of workers. Organized labor is still a key constituency for Obama, and he must throw them a few bones before November 2012. There is little likelihood that union members will defect in large numbers to whichever Republican runs against Obama. But many of them could stay home on Election Day, which would hurt the president’s chances of becoming the country’s third consecutive two-term president.

Martha Lynn Craver
Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter