Washington — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow congressional Republicans are zeroing in on environmental and labor regulations seen as burdensome by the coal and farming industries to gain leverage in the debate over the president's $447 billion jobs package.
"It seems that the Obama Administration has proposed regulations that would increase costs for nearly every family in America, not to mention what these regulations have done to endanger jobs," McConnell said this week.
The pushback is part of a fight between the GOP and the White House over the administration's attempt to strengthen such regulations as capping greenhouse gases, toughen mine-permitting requirements, hiring guest workers, controlling dust on farms and storing oil, among other rules.
Kentucky's mining industry says the administration's moratorium on issuing permits for new surface-mining projects is costing the state coal mining jobs.
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"This is not a partisan issue, in my opinion. It's not just about coal production. It's about protecting the economy of Kentucky and our competitive advantage through low-cost electricity," said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
State lawmakers and officials — including Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, whose administration sued the Environmental Protection Agency over delays in issuing coal mining permits — have criticized what they see as the EPA's overly aggressive regulatory efforts.
The farming industry says the Department of Labor's changes to the H2A temporary visa worker programs are making it more difficult for farmers to secure the labor they need, said Joe Cain, director of national affairs and political education with the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation.
The farming industry also is grappling with EPA's rule — scheduled to start in November — that would require farms storing more than 1,320 gallons of oil products in containers of 55 gallons or more to have pollution-prevention plans, Cain said. The rule was originally directed toward the oil industry but now includes any oil product, including petroleum products and lubricants and crop oils and vegetable oils, and it would require many farmers to make costly storage-facility upgrades.
The EPA's proposed regulation on cutting the amount of dust is especially troubling to farmers. During a town hall last month in Atkinson, Ill, a worried farmer asked President Barack Obama directly about the regulation.
"Especially during harvest, there is dust. Large areas would potentially be deemed out of compliance if this reduction occurred and it could be a significant economic, and time, burden on producers to comply with," Cain said.
The Obama administration has gone on the offensive. The White House says the president's plan will cut the payroll tax in half to 3.1 percent for employers on the first $5 million in wages, providing broad tax relief to all businesses but targeting it to the 98 percent of firms with wages below this level.
In Kentucky, 70,000 firms will receive a payroll tax cut under the American Jobs Act, the administration said.
Obama also has hit the road, using every stop to press Americans to speak up. "I'm asking all of you to lift your voice," the president said this week in Columbus, Ohio. "I need you to call and email and tweet and fax and visit."
But so far in Kentucky, many lawmakers say they aren't seeing a blip in calls. The White House said Wednesday it was too early to reach a conclusion as to whether the call to pressure Congress was working, but officials suggested it will continue.
A McClatchy assessment of calls nationwide to senators and congressmen shows that few voters have responded to Obama's pleas to jam phone lines or deluge members' Web sites.
Alex Cruz, a spokesman for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said her office had received 21 calls supporting the president's jobs proposal and five calls against it — "a tad" more than on a typical bill, but nothing out of the ordinary.
"So far, it is nothing compared to the volume on the debt limit vote," said Sarah Little, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.
In the meantime, McConnell is pressing the case to reduce the number of new regulations being issued by federal agencies.
"I've talked with a lot of job creators over the past few years, including many in my home state of Kentucky. It's no secret what they need to create jobs. Every one of them says the same thing — and yet the president refuses to do any of it," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.