ROBERT SIEGEL, host: When lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week, debate is expected to pivot from debt and deficits to the nation's top concern - jobs. Next Thursday, before a joint session of Congress, President Obama will present his plan to boost employment. But, as NPR's David Welna reports, the Republicans who run the House have their own ideas about what's needed for more jobs and they've set their sights on what they call job-destroying regulations.
DAVID WELNA: House Republicans got a memo this week from Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The jobs crisis, he told them, would be the focus of their agenda this fall, and votes would be held each week to repeal or stall government regulations. Cantor said he drew up a list based on a series of hearings held earlier this year. At one of them, Texas Republican Pete Sessions made the GOP's case that less regulation means more jobs, especially when it comes to small businesses.
PETE SESSIONS: One of the fastest ways to put America back to work, Republicans believe, is to limit the regulatory expenses that these small firms have to comply with simply to satisfy federal government regulations. Regulatory burdens are hindering job growth.
WELNA: In his memo, Majority Leader Cantor targets 10 new or proposed regulations. Seven of them take aim at the Environmental Protection Agency - everything from blocking tougher ozone standards to delaying new anti-pollution equipment requirements for power plants, boilers and cement makers. Susan Eckerly is chief lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which calls itself the voice of small business. She says the NFIB's support for a regulatory rollback is pro-jobs, not anti-environment.
SUSAN ECKERLY: I mean, small-business owners want clean air and clean water to run their business, and for their families, just like anybody else.
WELNA: But they don't want to have these rules applied to them, so...
ECKERLY: No, we already have plenty of clean air rules on the books that seem to work very well. The question we're asking right now, is it economically feasible in this economy right now to propose even stricter ones?
WELNA: But critics of the GOP's push for deregulation insist the benefits of the EPA's rules far outweigh their costs. Rena Steinzor heads the Center for Progressive Reform. She says tougher environmental regulations are good not only for the nation's health, but also for the job market.
RENA STEINZOR: We require factories to control pollution by putting on scrubbers on smokestacks or cleaning wastewater before they dump it in a river. And people make that equipment and install that equipment.
WELNA: More to the point, would jobs be created if Congress rolled back environmental regulations? The NFIB's Eckerly thinks they would.
ECKERLY: I think Washington paying attention to the fact - the burden of regulation - at least sends a signal to small-business owners that they understand that they're hurting out there. And it definitely gives them a signal that maybe creating a job is a good idea.
WELNA: Yet in a survey last month of 250 economists by the National Association for Business Economics, four out of five agreed that the current regulatory environment for American businesses was, in fact, good. In a July survey done by the Wall Street Journal, two-thirds of economists said the lack of jobs is due mainly to a lack of sales. Paul Ashworth, who's chief U.S. economist for Capital Economics in Toronto, was one of those surveyed.
PAUL ASHWORTH: The weakness of the recovery, not just in consumption, but across the whole economy, across all areas of spending, is a big problem. And that's probably the key reason why firms are reluctant to be more aggressive in hiring workers.
WELNA: Ashworth, who's considered one of the best forecasters of the economy, says he doubts rolling back regulations would lead to any dramatic turnaround in hiring. But that does not mean House Republicans won't not try. David Welna, NPR News, the capitol.
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