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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Out of balance: that's how President Obama described today the host of regulations meant to encourage economic growth while protecting the American people from irresponsible business practices. To strike the right balance, as he put it, President Obama ordered government agencies to review federal regulations and eliminate the ones that don't make sense. The rules under review encompass everything from environmental waste to labor conditions and food contamination.

As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, this is one more way in which the Obama White House has been reaching out both to the business community and to the political center.

ARI SHAPIRO: The president made his announcement where he knew business leaders would see it: in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal.

He called the system of federal regulations a patchwork of overlapping rules. And he said it's time to clean up the patchwork.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described the review.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): This is simply for the relevant agencies to go back and ensure that the regulations that are currently on their books go through a process that measures the costs and the benefits, that ensures, I think, the very commonsense idea that we must protect the health and the safety of the American people without impeding our economic growth.

SHAPIRO: The Obama administration has been trying to improve its relationship with the business community, reaching out to CEOs and appointing senior White House officials with strong business ties. This regulatory move is one more step in that direction.

In a statement, Tita Freeman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said this is a good first step, but doesn't go far enough.

Ms. TITA FREEMAN (Vice President, Communications and Strategy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): Congress should reclaim some of the authority it has delegated to the agencies and implement effective checks and balances on agency power.

SHAPIRO: The White House's actions today also stake out a position for President Obama in the political center, and they speak directly to the Republican Party's concerns about government overreach, just as Republicans begin to flex their muscles in the House majority.

But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said concerns about the business community or the Republican Party had nothing to do with the White House's decision.

Mr. GIBBS: This is something that has been long in the works.

SHAPIRO: The president's regulatory action here looks forward, too. From now on, the public will have more opportunity to comment on proposed rules through the website regulations.gov.

And there are new provisions for small businesses. Mr. Obama told agencies to be lenient with small business regulations, giving extension on deadlines or exemptions from rules when it's appropriate.

Todd McCracken is president and CEO of the National Small Business Association.

Mr. TODD McCRACKEN (President and CEO, National Small Business Association): We think it's an important principle that the federal government recognize that small companies operate differently, and a regulatory requirement that might make sense for an Exxon needs to be thought about in a different way for an Exxon service station.

SHAPIRO: At the White House this morning, people who represent environmental, labor, consumer and other public interest groups met with Cass Sunstein. He's the White House official who led this effort. People who attended the meeting were asked not to discuss it, but several say advocates in the room were concerned.

University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor is president of the Center for Progressive Reform, and while she was not at the White House meeting, she's concerned, too.

Ms. RENA STEINZOR (President, Center for Progressive Reform; Law Professor, University of Maryland): Think about all the disasters that we have suffered in the last couple of years: the Deepwater Horizon spill; the Big Branch mine; peanut paste with salmonella; Toyotas that suddenly accelerate; cadmium in children's jewelry. What you see is a massive failure of a regulatory system. A regulatory system that is dysfunctional.

SHAPIRO: She believes that the White House is pandering to big business at the expense of public safety.

Ms. STEINZOR: A look-back provision means that these agencies, which are drastically underfunded, will need to stop doing essential work on food safety, greenhouse gases, imports from China, and put all their time into figuring out what regulations are on the books that business doesn't like.

SHAPIRO: The White House says that's not true. They argue that this is a classic Obama approach to a problem: setting aside partisan arguments about whether government should be bigger or smaller and instead trying to strike a balance that will make government better.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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