by Brian Reisinger, Staff Reporter
Tennessee Republicans assailed federal regulations in congressional testimony Monday, saying legislation and administrative rule making is choking business on countless fronts.
"As a country, we need to be moving in exactly the opposite direction," U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In some ways, the hearing at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro produced predictable talking points: Every public official who provided or heard testimony was a Republican who has pushed such issues in the past. Nearly all the testimony decried ways that regulations are costing businesses money, time or independence that could otherwise contribute to greater job creation.
At the same time, it was a rare collective airing of grievances by Tennessee's top Republicans, ranging from banking and health care reform to regulations related to the environment and labor. It also highlighted how thorny regulatory issues — and defining what is a burden versus a legitimate protection for citizens — can become.
Corker was joined by fellow U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Each has his own list of ways federal regulation is stifling economic activity.
Alexander, though, walked a finer line than the rest. The former Tennessee governor and long-time senator called the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — a frequent target of Republicans — a "happy hunting ground for goofy regulations."
But he also did not back off of his previously stated support of two EPA clean-air regulations — which he said is critical to a proper business environment — a position fellow Republicans stopped short of backing. He said massive job creators Nissan and Volkswagen may not have come to Tennessee if they'd lacked proper protections.
He also decried the National Labor Relations Board for actions he thinks threaten right-to-work states, and joined Corker and the Haslam administration in criticizing federal financial and health care reform. At a brief press conference afterward, Alexander said judging regulations, though, comes down to whether their need is common sense and will help — not hurt — job creation.
"It's a part of the job," he said.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the committee, maintained a cordial and often laudatory exchange with those giving testimony. He said Democrats were invited, then pushed back against any perceived partisanship by saying the issues are large enough to require bipartisan action.
The office of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, confirmed that he could not make it for scheduling reasons. Asked about the contents of the testimony — all decidedly against federal regulation of any kind, beyond Alexander’s EPA stand — Cooper said it was "no surprise that a partisan hearing drew only partisan solutions."
"I wasn’t able to attend the hearing, but today I'm meeting with a bipartisan group of members of Congress to address the year-end fiscal cliff, an issue that should be top-of-mind for Congress right now," Cooper said.
In their testimony, Haslam and Hagerty touted Tennessee's low-tax, pro-business environment. Haslam said despite the $1.5 billion in stimulus money that is no longer boosting the state budget — and other ways it depends upon federal spending — Tennessee has been able to balance its budget and show more government is not the answer.
Beyond the issue of whether regulations are justified — proponents of federal financial and health care reform have scores of examples of why they think the reform was necessary — the challenge of changing them also loomed. As a member of the House, Issa is in the majority, while the Senate remains in Democratic hands.
Issa asked Alexander whether he felt he could help carry regulatory reform through the Senate. The senator answered in the affirmative and said he has broad structural ideas for how to do that, but also quipped that he needs a few more Republicans.