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Blanche Lincoln Headshot

Avoid Extremes to Solve Our Nation's Problems

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Unrelenting partisanship can strangle our nation's political process and divert our energies from building our economy. And in the midst of this year's deficit debate, we're seeing a great deal of that deleterious behavior playing out inside the Beltway.

When adhering to a partisan mindset, lawmakers reject any ideas that originate from their opposition, regardless of merit. And the political welfare of our nation -- which is increasingly comprised of independents who are practically and politically moderate problem solvers -- suffers as a result.

This partisanship has been evident in the current debate over federal regulations. Catering to their base, the administration has been resolute in its pursuit of aggressive, sometimes duplicative, and often excessive regulatory agendas. And all of these, as we know, come with a hefty price tag -- ill-timed as we continue to see stagnant job growth and unemployment numbers.

Some Republicans, on the other hand, tout points calling for the dismantling of EPA, the end of regulation, and the unshackling of our economy. But any unbiased observer can see that such drastic action is uncalled for.

Rather than adhering so closely to talking points and principal, our regulators and lawmakers need to turn their focus to sensibility and common sense. Regulation does not have to be -- and should not be -- the political football that it has become in recent years. And history demonstrates this to be true.

The carbon monoxide standards which limit the allowable level of the pollutant in cities over any given eighthour period have remained constant since 1971. The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that the existing limit of 9 parts per million adequately protects human health and the environment, adding stability to businesses forced to comply with the measure. This decades-old standard is a prime example of the type of long-lasting, effecting regulation we need.

Unfortunately, this kind of symbiotic relationship is far from a foregone conclusion when creating regulations.

Since the 1970s, EPA has defined milk as an "oil" and regulated it accordingly. That meant the agency subjected a small family dairy farm in Pennsylvania to the same costly rules designed to prevent oil spills as drilling operators in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. regulatory czar Cass Sunstein recently applauded the agency for saving America's milk industry as much as $1.4 billion over the next decade by exempting it from the rule back in May. However, the refinement of this rule raises larger questions: what kind of regulatory process would enable such a costly, clearly irrational rule to weigh on American small businesses for nearly 40 years? How much can we save other industries in the next decade that they could reinvest in job creation?

This systemic problem extends to pending regulations as well.

These programs have consequences for everyday businesspeople, often forcing them to hire legal teams and compliance officers, buy new equipment, change practices, or limit growth or expansion. Randy O'Dell of Greenville, Ohio was forced to pay $200,000 for equipment to meet EPA standards at his glassmaking company in 2006, standards that were later relaxed. Efforts to create new jobs at a company like O'Dell's Jafe Decorating come to a standstill when regulations become overly burdensome. Creating a level of uncertainty brings reinvestment to a halt.

These challenges to our small businesses and the communities and neighborhoods they serve illustrate why I'm chairing the Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations campaign to restore sensibility to our regulatory process using practical solutions. This balance will require compromise to ensure that regulations are adding benefit to people's lives today without charging the bill to future generations.

The sooner we remove incendiary politics from our nation's rulemaking process, the sooner we can restore the health of our economy -- and our political culture.

Blanche Lincoln is a former U.S. Senator from Arkansas and the chair of the National Federation of Independent Businesses' Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations campaign.

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