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Legislative Hearings: The NASE Intern Perspective

Friday, June 24, 2011

Posted by Sung Yoo - One of the many perks of being a NASE Advocacy Intern (aside from the near unlimited supply of M&Ms and working with the fabulous staff and fellow intern Jaimie), is the chance to go on legislative hearings. This Wednesday, my first week at work and only my third time in DC, I was instructed to go on a hearing entitled “Lifting the Weight of Regulations: Growing Jobs by Reducing Regulatory Burdens”. This was a topic I was particularly interested in, as my family owns a small business as well.

Apparently, all hearings are open to the public (with some exceptions), so going to a hearing was as simple as hailing a taxi from the NASE office and moseying on into the Rayburn House Office Building, located just south of the Capitol Dome. For the written record, the salad bar at the Rayburn cafeteria is exemplary.

As I stood in line for security checks along with House Staffers/Interns, lobbyists, tourists, and others, I could not help but worry a bit about what was to come. Would I cause a political scandal? Accidentally tweet something inappropriate, perhaps? Sneeze during a witness’ testimony? Or maybe fall asleep during the Q&A, and be broadcast on C-SPAN? I nervously tugged on the NASE lapel pin that Executive Director Kristie Arslan had given us. What if The Washington Post wants to interview me? Is this real life?!

Alas, my worst nightmares did not materialize, except for the awkward moment I tried to walk into the Committee room 30 minutes before the hearing and was shooed away by the tech guy (Standing in line outside is the polite etiquette for these types of situations!). I eventually took a seat in the second row, and before I knew it all the Witnesses’ had seated and Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO), Ranking member Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and other Congressmen and women had arrived and hearing convened.

To be quite frank, the beginning of Committee hearings are not very interesting. For one, the opening statement made by the Chair, and witness’ testimony are distributed in paper outside the Committee room, so the statements are simply read with a great air of authority and graciousness. The real, juicy part of a Committee hearing occurs during the Q&A section that happens right afterwards. This is when the lions come out to roar, the chickens come home to roost, and Snookie gets punched in the face.

On Wednesday, the topic of discussion was on H.R. 527, the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act of 2011, and H.R. 585, the Small Business Size Standard Flexibility Act of 2011. The two bills are designed to remove loopholes in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), and strengthen the power of the Office of the Counsel for Advocacy.

If that sounds like a mouthful to you, don’t worry! Our Legal Counsel Mike Beene tells me that even Congressmen have trouble understanding what the heck is going on. This is the gist: The RFA was enacted in 1980 (and amended by SBREFA in 1995), when Congress decided federal agencies must consider the effects of their rules and regulations on small businesses. However, many federal agencies have continued to ignore the spirit of the RFA. The new bill in hearing is meant to close loopholes that allow this to happen, and require federal agencies to require better assessments of impacts regulations may have on small businesses and other small entities. Furthermore, the new bill would create new panels that would give small business representatives the opportunity to become involved in the formative stage of the creation of new rules. 

Of course, at NASE, we are fully in support of the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act of 2011. In these difficult economic times, it is imperative that federal agencies consider the impact of their regulations on small businesses. After all, small businesses employ 53 percent of the workforce, and 64 percent of net new jobs created.

However, regulations reforms must be a balancing act. Regulations, after all, “protect our food supply, ensure that drugs work, and keep financial markets transparent,” according to Chairman Graves.

“It’s hard to work and live under these regulations,” Congressmen Jeffrey Landry (R-LA), said while complaining of safety regulations made by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He gave an example of workers who were not allowed to clean up the BP oil spill during the afternoon due to the heat, and at night because of the dark.

Adam Finkel, a Witness from University of Pennsylvania Law School, retorted, “If you are amputated or dead, it is difficult to make a living too.”

Over all, my first House Committee for Small Business hearing was a success. From learning how to actually get to the Rayburn House Office Building, to realizing that all the Republicans sit to the right of the Chairman while all the Democrats sit to the left, I couldn’t have asked for a more informative hearing. I amazed at how open our democracy is, and I am absolutely thrilled to be writing for the NASE blog. I cannot wait to bring you more stories throughout the summer.

Let’s just hope I don’t get lost navigating through the DC grids!

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