Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), the new chairman of the House Oversight and… (Tim Sloan, AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Washington — Rep. Darrell Issa used to be an entrepreneur. Now he aims to use his position to help business owners reverse what they see as onerous federal regulations.
As the new head of the House's top investigative committee, the conservative Republican from Vista, Calif., recently sent letters to more than 150 business leaders asking for their wish list of rules they think are too burdensome.
Issa's effort also is aimed at setting up him and his GOP colleagues as business-friendly lawmakers who want to clear obstructions to job growth and competition.
"The anti-business policies of the past have hurt job creators, small and large," Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella said. "It's in the interest of every American that we create a regulatory environment that fosters economic growth and makes U.S. companies globally competitive."
As chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa plans hearings in the coming weeks on the effect of regulation on job creation.
But Ed Mierzwinski, director of the consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said Republicans were just doing the bidding of big business.
"The idea that all regulations are job killers is false," he said.
Issa's letters, sent in December, seek help "identifying existing and proposed regulations that have negatively impacted job growth," according to a copy of one of the letters released Tuesday by his office.
The outreach reflected the more business-friendly approach of House Republicans. They have branded many government regulations, including major provisions in the new healthcare and financial reform laws, as "job killers."
Issa, who made a fortune running his own car-alarm company, has been outspoken about reversing what he views as the anti-business attitude of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. His letters to businesses referred to "the regulatory state."
Targeting government regulations is popular with business groups. The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently referred to "a regulatory hurricane" coming from Washington that has worsened during the first two years of the Obama administration.
"I think this Congress is going to be focused on regulation," said Rosario Palmieri, vice president of regulatory policy for the National Assn. of Manufacturers, which is preparing a list of regulations it wants lawmakers to review.
"We want to be the best place in the world to do business. We want to do that safely," Palmieri said. "But we can do that in a more efficient and less costly manner than we are doing now."
Issa's letters are drawing fire from Democrats and their supporters.
"There's a new sheriff in town. Unfortunately he's far more interested in protecting the interests of corporate America and big business that donated so generously to his campaign and party than he is in protecting the interests of middle-class Americans," said Americans United for Change, a liberal activist group.
Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said Issa "seems to have made up his mind already that regulations are bad."
"The lack of regulations led to the biggest financial collapse since 1929," Mierzwinski said.
In the letters, Issa said federal agencies issued 43 major new regulations in the 2010 fiscal year that cost businesses $28 billion — "the highest single year increase in estimated burden on record, resulting in thousands of lost jobs."
Issa spokesman Bardella said the lawmaker wanted "insight from job creators who have felt shut out of the policy process so that we have a better understanding about what regulatory barriers are standing in the way of job creation."
House Republicans could vote to repeal some regulations, but they would need Democratic support to get legislation through the Senate and signed by President Obama.
Mierzwinski said Issa and Republicans had another path of attack — using hearings to belittle the work of regulators, laying the groundwork to try to cut their funding.
"To some extent they're pandering to the business community, but there is also a strategy to make regulations look bad," Mierzwinski said. "If you undercut the agencies politically, as these letters seem to imply they're doing, you make it easier to cut their budgets."