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There are few greater places to celebrate July Fourth than Washington, D.C. The fireworks, parades and displays of historic documents attract huge crowds who brave stifling heat and humidity to refresh their patriotic zeal.
Unfortunately, many who could benefit by standing in those long lines to read the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights won’t be around. Congress has fled the city to “work” back home.
But you can bet that the federal regulatory machine isn’t taking a break. That monster of micro-management—scornfully referred to as the “Fourth Branch of Government”—never ceases grinding out new rules that keep the economy from growing and starved of much-needed revenue.
Of the more than 4,000 federal regulations now rushing through the bureaucratic pipeline, 854 directly target small businesses. These edicts not only arrive in great numbers but ding virtually every aspect of small firms—taxes, health care, labor, environment, safety and much more.
An entrepreneur’s biggest worry should be good, old-fashioned competition from another business or some foreign country that unfairly steals market share. But today, the biggest threat is often their own government, which is oblivious to the damage it’s inflicting.
President Obama raised small-business owners’ hopes a couple of years ago when he promised his administration would be “firmly committed to eliminating excessive and unjustified burdens on small businesses.” But the Fourth Branch never got the message. Now the majority of small-business owners and manufacturers agree that the United States’ own laws, regulations, taxes and fees are more harmful to their businesses than even competition from abroad.
Reform of the regulatory system is long overdue. A National Federation of Independent Business survey in 2012 found that nine-of-10 small-business owners support that idea, and it’s also backed up by average voters who said they believe that American businesses and consumers are over-regulated.
And it’s not just the federal government whose regulatory machine is in overdrive. The unbridled rulemaking example set by Washington has energized state and local bureaucrats, too.
It took a U.S. Supreme Court challenge to beat back Florida wetlands overseers who tried to force a small-business owner to pay for environmental projects on public land unrelated to property he wanted to develop. But NFIB weighed in on his behalf and recently the high court stopped that overreach in its tracks.
It’s hard to believe that lawmakers and regulators can’t connect the dots between needless regulations and our sluggish economy. Then again, those who have never started a small business are unlikely to understand the challenges facing entrepreneurs who simply want to create a business that reflects their values and fuels their dreams.
The danger that runaway regulation presents to America can be avoided if more small-business owners and the public step forward to demand realistic rulemaking. Reform is possible, but it requires courage and leadership—the same stuff that created those historic documents tourists will be viewing while many lawmakers who could use a refresher on freedom and democracy are far from the nation’s capital.
Dan Danner is the President and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s largest and oldest small-business advocacy group.
President and CEO, NFIB