Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gerry Connolly Says There's A Difference Between Unfunded Mandates and Private Sector Regulations

As the negotiations surrounding the federal budget has been receiving a significant amount of attention in recent months, many members of Congress are concerned about potential “unfunded mandates” being placed on local and state governments. One of those members is Gerry Connolly, who spent many years as a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Gerry has spoken out about unfunded mandates on several occasions and I distinctly remember him using NCLB as an example of how the federal government sometimes issues requirements for localities but not also providing the funding for localities to meet those federal mandates. As localities are struggling to balance their budget in tough economic times this is simply unacceptable. That is why Congress passed the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (aka UMRA).

The discussion about unfunded mandates has becoming increasingly prevalent on the Hill recently and isn’t just limited to those who have served in local government. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, for instance, held hearing a couple months ago on UMRA for the first time in over five years. This hearing was somewhat uneventful as most of the witnesses and committee members appeared to agree that there should be an effort to ensure that there aren’t very many unfunded mandates placed on local government. There was a second hearing on the topic yesterday, however, that created a bit of a stir as the Republicans on the committee clearly were clearly using it to argue against regulation of the business community.

Since many economists have said deregulation of the banking and business community is what largely caused the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression (which we’re still trying to recover from), it might be hard to believe that Congressional leadership would even consider arguing against regulating the business community. That is why Rep. Gerry Connolly used his opening statement to really go after the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. While highlighting how he supports “efforts to curtail unfunded state and local government mandates,” he pointed out that unfunded mandates are a separate matter than regulating the private sector. That is why he was frustrated that the GOP decided to ignore the spirit of UMRA by trying to use the legislation “as a subterfuge to block or delay thoughtful regulation on the private sector.” On top of that, Gerry added that the GOP’s tactics “would not only harm the public we serve but also waste time that could be used to develop better technology and procurement policy.”

Throughout the debate surrounding health care reform, we frequently heard the Tea Party and its supporters claim that the legislation would do enormous harm to small businesses. That argument was also used at yesterday’s hearing as a justification of what UMRA needed to be used in order to prevent regulation of the private sector in general. As the ranking Democrat on the committee, Gerry Connolly once again stepped up to question this line of propaganda put out by the GOP. For instance, Gerry highlighted how we have heard similar arguments from the GOP and business community before in the run up to when Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1990. History has shown those arguments to be false in the 20 years since that legislation was implemented.

In regards to health care reform, Gerry was quick to point out how the Tea Party and its allies are grossly exaggerating the burden on small business. Only about 4% have over 50 employee threshold that would require businesses to provide health care, for example, which means that 96% of small businesses would therefore be exempt from the so called “onerous regulation” of providing health care. On top of that, over 96% of those 4% already offer coverage and therefore would be exempt of the “onerous regulation.” What these statistics mean is that many members the GOP and the business community are exaggerating the impact of legislation on a incredibly small number of people in an attempt to score some political points. And those types of political games are exactly what Gerry Connolly and other Democrats believe shouldn’t be a part of the discussion surrounding legislation that could greatly benefit the American people.

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