Chamber of Commerce: Regulatory agencies overwhelmed

Business leaders criticize health care and financial reform laws and say SEC, HHS and Labor cannot handle new workload.

In his annual issues review called "The State of American Business," U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue on Tuesday denounced the Obama administration's "tsunami [of] unprecedented regulatory activity," taking some shots at the capacity of several agencies to handle their new workload.

"We cannot allow this nation to move from a government of the people to a government of the regulators," Donahue said at a breakfast at the chamber's headquarters. "That's where it has been headed under Republicans and Democrats alike. We're going to be engaged in this fight for years to come."

In a speech packed with the business lobby's pronouncements on job creation, corporate taxation and free-trade pacts, Donahue saved particularly tough criticism for the health care law as it's being implemented primarily by the Health and Human Services Department, as well as the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

His chief lobbyist, Bruce Josten, at a news conference after the speech said, "The regulatory agencies are under stress and it doesn't seem they can handle their workload."

Expressing hope for major changes in the health care law, Donahue said, "By mid-December [2010], HHS had already granted 222 waivers to the law -- a revealing acknowledgement that the law is unworkable." He also said the law creates 159 new agencies, commissions, panels and other bodies.

On financial reform, Donahue said, "Dodd-Frank contains 259 mandated rule-makings, another 188 suggested rule-makings, 63 reports and 59 studies. My grandchildren will be old and retired before it is all implemented," he added.

Donahue also attacked agency agendas in the area of labor, saying, "Job creators are … facing unprecedented activity and case law changes in the Department of Labor, the [National Labor Relations Board], and similar agencies. Over 100 such efforts are under way covering compensation, contracting, leave, ergonomics, workplace safety, hiring and firing, and union organizing."

An HHS spokesperson in response pointed out a summary of recently issued rules, titled "Getting Benefits Into the Hands of Consumers: Implementation Accomplishments," on the department's website.

SEC spokesman John Nester did not challenge the chamber's numbers on implementation of financial reform, saying the SEC has about 100 rules and 20 studies to produce, while others are under way at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. "The longer we operate under significant budgetary restrictions, the greater the impact" on SEC capacity, he said, referring to current agency funding levels frozen at fiscal 2010 levels. "There's no budgetary increase to handle the regulatory workload. That said, the staff is doing its best to keep on schedule with the top priority of getting it right."