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Congressional Democrats Should Take a Hint From Obama

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This week's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by President Obama stressed the importance of creating a pro-growth, pro-business regulatory environment which will help put Americans back to work. For many people who don't live in Washington, the regulations passed by agencies like the FDA, the EPA and others seem less important than the big and well-publicized fights in Congress. But in reality, they are often much more impactful on business and hiring than, say, fights over tax cuts or Wall Street reform.

In his op-ed, the president talked about the case of saccharin, the sugar substitute, which the FDA deemed to be safe, but the EPA regulated as hazardous waste. This costs the companies that make the faux sugar millions of dollars every year to properly dispose and handle a product that is obviously not dangerous. To the average American, this regulatory change means nothing. But if you work at a company that produces saccharin, maybe now you can get a pay raise or hire a new employee from the pool of the unemployed in this country. In other words, this small and little known regulatory fix can help get America back to work and improve peoples' lives.

The president, by reaching out to business, is helping industry to get millions of Americans back to work and at the same time increasing his chances of being elected to a second-term in the White House. In fact, Mr. Obama is doing more than just talking. He has hired Bill Daley as a pro-business chief of staff from Chicago and Vice President Biden has named Bruce Reed, who hails from the moderate think-tank the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), as his new chief of staff. Both of these moves were welcomed by the business community. And when the business community is happy, they hire people.

The president and his advisors have clearly realized this move to the center is good politics. But the question remains, will Democrats in Congress follow suit and help the president pass a moderate and pro-business agenda? This should be a priority for Democrats on Capitol Hill. After all, they just suffered historic losses in the House and they are facing a slew of potential retirements in the Senate in 2012. Just this week, Senators Conrad and Lieberman announced they would not run for reelection, making it even harder for Democrats to keep the Senate in the next Congress.

Politically speaking, for Democrats to have any chance to keep the Senate or possibly start down the road of taking back the House of Representatives, they will need to move to the center and be more pro-business. Yet, this message is somehow getting lost in the corridors of Capitol Hill. For example, some House Democrats are pushing the FDA to ban common soaps, even though the American public wants access to antibacterial hand wash and the FDA believes they are safe. Banning soaps may please some progressive special interests, but it will cost good jobs and is exactly the type of federal regulation that makes business and voters wary of Democrats.

I understand moving to the center won't be easy for Democrats in Congress. After all, with historic losses of moderates, the Democrats who remain are often very progressive from urban districts. But unless Democrats in Congress take steps to find ways to work with the Obama administration and business to get Americans back to work, Democrats will continue to be the minority party and more importantly, millions of people in this country will remain unemployed. I hope my former colleagues will do that right thing and we can get our friends, neighbors and family members back to work -- while at the same time winning votes.

Ronnie Shows is a former Blue Dog Democratic Congressman from Mississippi.

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