When Business Owners Say "Lack of Demand," Republicans Hear "Too Many Regulations"

October 26, 2011 2:17 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Rep. Dan Burton

When Gallup asked small business owners earlier this month what would cause them to hire new employees in the next year, a plurality (27 percent) said an increase in sales or revenues. Rounding out the top three responses: 20 percent pointed to an overall improvement in the economy, and 17 percent indicated that the need to support growth or expansion plans would cause them to hire new employees. In other words: Greater demand for their goods and services would lead to new hiring. The same poll found that "lack of consumer demand" was the third most frequently mentioned "problem facing small business owners like you today." 

Now here's how Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) describes that poll:

A recent Gallup poll showed that nearly one quarter of small business owners believe that excessive government regulation is the most important problem facing small business owners today. [...] They also identified: poor leadership, the government, or the president as the primary problem (9%), consumer uncertainty regarding the economy (15%), or the new Obamacare policies (5%). All told, if we objectively look at the information collected by Gallup, this means that nearly half of small business owners in America believe that government regulation is to blame for the stark environment that they now face.

Notice anything missing? Right — Burton omitted the poll's findings about the importance of consumer demand to small businesses. That's typical of congressional Republicans, who have been pretending they aren't aware of the concept of demand. And other GOPers, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Rep. Robert Hurt (R-VA) have touted Gallup's finding that government regulation topped small business owners' list of complaints. (Republicans, it should be noted, have not been so quick to cite the National Federation of Independent Business' findings that more small business owners named "poor sales" as their biggest problem than anything else.)

But Burton didn't merely omit "lack of consumer demand" from his list of problems identified by small businesses (while including problems mentioned less frequently). In "objectively" concluding that "nearly half of small business owners" think "government regulation is to blame" for economic woes, Burton is adding together "excessive regulation" (22 percent), "poor leadership, the government, or the president" (9 percent), "consumer uncertainty" (15 percent) and "Obamacare" (5 percent.) That comes to a total of 51 percent, or slightly more than half. But Burton's bad math isn't as striking as his dishonesty: He's including "consumer confidence" under the heading of "government regulation," which is nonsense — it fits more naturally with "lack of consumer demand." Nor is there any reason to categorize "poor leadership, the government, or the president" as a concern about "government regulation." So, really, 27 percent of respondents gave an answer that could plausibly be summarized as a concern about "government regulation" — tying the number who identified "consumer confidence" or "lack of demand."

Burton's rhetorical sleight of hand is illustrative of the Republican tendency to hear (or pretend to hear) 'excessive regulations' no matter what they're actually told. And what they've been told, over and over again, by business owners and economists and the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Treasury Department and even the small business lobby is that regulations aren't killing job creation — lack of demand is.