Business Praises Obama's 'First Step' on Regulation

The business community is praising President Obama's new regulatory initiative, while retaining a degree of skepticism that meaningful change will come.

Obama rolled out a plan this morning to minimize the burdens of regulation on businesses, introducing it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Obama said the administration will seek input from businesses, and he issued a memo and executive order requiring executive agencies to review existing regulations and make compliance info searchable online.

"We welcome President Obama's intention to issue an executive order today restoring balance to government regulations," said Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's most prominent business group.

"While a positive first step, a robust and globally competitive economy requires fundamental reform of our broken regulatory system.  Congress should reclaim some of the authority it has delegated to the agencies and implement effective checks and balances on agency power," Donohue continued, in a statement issued by the group.

Health care and financial reform should be examined as well, Donohue said: "No major rule or regulation should be exempted from the review, including the recently enacted health care and financial reform laws."

It remains to be seen what will come out of this new roll-out. Obama has held a tricky relationship with business as president: Business coalitions like the Chamber supported his stimulus plan at the outset of his presidency, but the pushes to reform energy, health care, and Wall Street didn't thrill them as much.

While Obama has aimed much of this initiative at making things easier for small businesses, the nation's leading small-business group sounds a bit more skeptical.

"It is encouraging for the small-business community to hear President Obama say that he recognizes impact of over-burdensome regulations. It has been a long time coming for small business owners to hear this from this administration, and we will be watching closely to see if today's directive leads to real regulatory reform," said National Federation of Independent Businesses President and CEO Dan Danner.

"After all, small businesses are disproportionately affected by government regulations, costing them around 36 percent more per employee than their larger counterparts. The high cost of regulation on small business warrants special attention, and I welcome the President to call on us for input," Danner said, in a prepared statement issued by NFIB.

Obama is asking officials to offer special treatment to small businesses, including extended compliance deadlines and total exemptions, to offset the added cost of compliance for smaller-scale operations.

The memo and executive order don't offer much in the way of binding changes to how government agencies handle regulation of commerce, but Obama is requiring that each agency develop a plan for periodically reviewing regulation and weeding out redundancies and unrealistic burdens.

In other words, the scope of the initiative is broad, but business is waiting to see whether this broad mandate will result in the changes it wants to see.