From health care reform to state regulations, we all need a fresh start

Association of Washington BusinessJanuary 8, 2014 

The New Year is traditionally a time for reflection and renewal. A shiny new year lies ahead, full of promise.

The New Year is a time when people pledge to change their lives: lose weight, stop smoking, be a better parent, work harder, work less.

Regardless of your situation, the New Year holds the opportunity for a fresh start.

Our nation needs a fresh start.

We are now entering the fifth year of the economic “recovery,” the slowest on record since the Great Depression. While there have been sporadic fits and starts of improved numbers, economic growth and job creation remain painfully slow.

When the recession began in 2008, an unemployed person was jobless for an average of 16 weeks. Today, the average is nine months, with many people out of work for two years or more. While the official unemployment rate has dropped to 7 percent, the “real” rate, including the millions who have given up looking for work, is double that.

U.S. economic policy needs a fresh start in 2014. It’s time for a change.

Another change? We need to stop the avalanche of regulations that are slowing our recovery. The Competitive Enterprise Institute reports that government agencies issued more than 3,300 new regulations in 2013 with compliance costs of $1.8 trillion per year.

Reasonable regulations are necessary, of course, but there are already more than 1 million federal regulations on the books. And the pace of new regulations is relentless — one every two hours and nine minutes, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, for the past 20 years

In testimony before Congress, George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley warned that unelected regulators are becoming a powerful “fourth branch” of government.

We need to take a fresh look at overregulation in 2014.

Perhaps the most high-profile regulation slowing our recovery is the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – which was rushed through Congress in 2010 at the president’s urging.

Obamacare is causing widespread market disruption and uncertainty. Millions have lost their coverage, and as many as 80 million more may take a hit when the employer mandate is triggered. Many small businesses have deferred hiring, and millions of people have been reduced to part-time work. It will cost people and our economy trillions.

In an attempt to avert a voter backlash, President Obama has delayed the employer mandate, added exemptions, extended deadlines, changed eligibility rules – all without Congressional approval. Multiple lawsuits challenging the ACA are working their way through the courts. Both political parties agree: it’s a mess.

This confusion and uncertainty must not continue for another year. Health insurance reform needs a fresh start in 2014.

Washington state would also benefit from a New Year’s re-evaluation. Gov. Inslee is moving forward with California-like climate change regulations, but, because Washington is much cleaner than California, we don’t need – nor would we see much benefit from – such disruptive and costly regulations.

At the same time, the state Department of Ecology is pursuing new water quality regulations for public and private water treatment facilities that DOE officials admit are literally impossible to meet – and may be for decades to come.

A recent study projects this impossible standard could cost ratepayers and employers billions of dollars with no hope of compliance and little environmental benefit to show for it. The City of Bellingham says the regulation could push a family’s monthly sewer bill from $35 to $200 or more.

As we start the New Year, it’s time for our elected officials and state regulators to re-evaluate the path they’re on.

Individuals, families, employers, politicians and policymakers – we all need a fresh start in 2014.

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Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business, which serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. For more information, visit www.awb.org.

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