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The Delicate Balance

“Toe-may-toe,” “ta-mah-toe” – cheddar or Swiss, pen-stripped or plaid, romance or action, Dial or Dove, Bounty or Brawny – many of the choices that we encounter in our day-to-day activities are inconsequential. Most likely, it makes very little qualitative or quantitative difference which alternatives we actualize. Yet, sometimes, these choices are consequential. Sometimes there are moments in our day when what we do or don’t do, what we concentrate on or gloss over, who we listen to or who we ignore radically impacts our lives, the lives of our loved ones, the lives of others, and the environment that we live in. Sometimes these choices are binary, like the examples above, but this is not always the case. Sometimes there are multitudinous alternatives, each with their own pains-pleasures, efficiencies-inefficiencies, goods-evils, blessings-curses, harms-healings, benefits-costs; and, in these cases, we feel pulled, tried, confused, and challenged as our values and aims encounter intricate obstacles. Expectedly, members of congress frequently encounter such trying situations while navigating the legislative process; and, a recent report by The Washington Post highlights one such situation.

Over the past few months, The Post has obtained and reviewed 200 “letters and reports” written by a number of U.S. companies. These documents were addressed to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who had asked these companies to pin-point government regulations that “have negatively impacted job growth.” Rep. Issa, the new chairperson for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, launched this inquiry in order to facilitate the committee’s investigation into which regulations inhibit American businesses. This action aligns with “the new GOP House majority’s goal of making federal regulations friendlier to business,” observes Philip Rucker and David Hilzenrath, the authors of the article.

According to The Post, the companies highlighted more than 150 stifling regulations. “Greenhouse gas emissions, health-care reform and Wall Street overhaul” were overarching themes that were also accompanied by more industry specific issues. CEOs representing a “coalition” of major U.S. companies expressed displeasure with regulations surrounding executive pay disclosure. In respect to this information, the CEOs claimed that determining the ratio between executive and standard employee compensation would be “very difficult and expensive” and may result in companies cutting jobs in order to “game the system.” “It could potentially cause companies to take actions that result in less employment, such as outsourcing, to produce better ratios,” the CEOs wrote.

Fuel-efficiency standards were also targeted. Rucker and Hilzenrath record that the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures claimed that “meeting 2012-2016 fuel efficiency standards would cost the industry more than $50 billion” thereby impacting their capacity to generate new employment opportunities.

In addition, forthcoming Environmental Protection Agency regulations garnered criticism. Regulations “limiting emissions from industrial boilers, pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and chemical discharges from Appalachian mountaintop coal mining” were listed along with a proposal requiring “utilities, manufacturers and refiners to use the most efficient technology with industrial boilers and solid waste incinerators.” The American Forest and Paper Association indicated that such requirements would “cost companies in the forest-products industry more than $6 billion and put tens of thousands of jobs at risk due to mill closures.”

In response to the revelation of these documents, Jen Psaki, the deputy White House communications director, stated, “If there are rules on the books that are needlessly stifling job creation and economic growth, we will fix them. But we have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of the American people, and rolling back regulations that ensure access to clean drinking water, protect children from lead poisoning and put in place a safe and secure financial system on the heels of the worst financial crisis in a generation is not a responsible approach to governing.” The Post notes that Issa’s committee only has the power to “turn a spotlight on the regulations,” but lacks the authority to “overturn or change them.”

However, these letters have already affected policy development. The Obama administration had intended to bolster “workplace noise standards” and require employers to “record their workers’ musculoskeletal injuries,” but both proposals have been withdrawn, possibly due to the fact that these regulations received criticism in the documents.

A number of polarities appear in Rucker and Hilzenrath’s article: executives or employees, environment or business, profit or downsizing, government regulation or corporate self-governance, Democrat or Republican, employment or environment, efficiency or jobs, etc. Yet, when we take a step back, the either/or nature of these polarities diminishes as the horizon of possibility expands. For example, is it necessary to conclude that meeting fuel efficiency standards will diminish profits and employment opportunities? Is it not also possible that meeting these standards could increase sales and generate new types of (and more) positions? It seems that these easily constructed either/or’s oversimplify underlying problems, complex values, and multifarious aims, and, thus, make it more difficult to perceive and evaluate the myriad of potential solutions that may exist. As Liberal Evangelicals we stand in a long tradition of holy figures and saints (Job, Deborah, Solomon, Jesus, Paul, Irenaeus, Macrina, Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, Martin Luther King, to name a few) who took the time and effort to peer into the depths of complex issues. These figures valued keen, thick analysis and solutions of equal quality. As a result of their careful efforts, they were able to make clear distinctions and avoid oversimplification. May we, their modern representatives, continue to practice similar habits.


To read The Washington Post‘s article “House GOP Targets Obama Regulations” in full please click here.

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