MARQUETTE - U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek decried excessive federal regulations and talked of easing the burden on Upper Peninsula businesses during a stop in Marquette Monday.
Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, is currently on a tour in which he is attempting to visit 100 businesses in Michigan's 1st Congressional District in 100 days.
"To me, it's about the jobs," he said. "We've been going throughout the district, talking to small businesses and saying, 'How is your interaction with the government? What are the challenges that you have in business? How can we make it easier for you?'"
The congressman said he has heard a lot of nervous talk from business owners. Uncertainty with changes in tax laws and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - President Barack Obama's signature attempt at sweeping health care reform - make business owners nervous about expanding, hiring new employees or taking many risks right now, according to Benishek.
Benishek said he visited the Gwinn offices of Potlatch Corp., a Spokane, Wash.-based timber company, and heard concerns about access to federal forestlands.
"The thing that stops them from being more productive is that they run out of wood. Making it easier for people to responsibly harvest out of the federal forest would really help them," he said. "The process for actually getting timber sales accomplished is complicated, and sometimes problematic. The average timber sales takes eight years ... in the federal forest."
A bill that Benishek authored - it has since passed into law - aims to cut down on the bureaucratic roadblocks in the process and limits who can sue to stop a timber sale and when. Now, interested parties must register at the beginning of the process to be eligible to sue during the process.
Similarly, Benishek voiced concern over the amount of time and effort that often goes into getting a new mine up and running. Earlier this month, he voted in favor of a bill aimed at speeding up the permitting process for mines.
"That's a bill ... so that there's not as much red tape in the process of opening a mine," he said. "The average mine in this country does take over 10 years to permit. Does it really need to take 10 years to permit a mine? The law asks that if an application is submitted that the answer from the agency comes in a certain time period.
"You want the process to move forward. You want the mine to be safe, you want it to be environmentally safe, but then you want the process and those agencies to have a time limit on how long they can delay their answers."
The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Protection Act passed the House of Representatives, 256-160.
As Benishek, a first-term congressman, tours his district, he is also thinking a bit about November, when he will face a re-election challenge from Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard. Benishek beat out McDowell for the seat in 2010.
Federal Election Commission filings released Monday indicated that the two candidates were in a tight fundraising battle.
Through June 30, Benishek had raised $305,032 in the second quarter of 2012, while McDowell raised $289,612. For the election cycle, Benishek has raised a total of $1.32 million to McDowell's $913,726.
Benishek said he has been focused mainly on the task of being a congressman and has let his campaign staff tend to the numbers. Still, he was pleased his team hit its fundraising goal for the second quarter.
"I'm working toward a goal. We had some fundraising goals and we have been able to meet them," he said. "We're running what I would call a robust campaign and I'm doing the best I can with that."
In a news release, McDowell said his fundraising totals indicate that people are unhappy with Benishek's performance.
"Grassroots supporters from northern Michigan and across the state are sending a message that no one in Washington is paying attention to jobs and our economy, and it is time to send a regular working person and some common-sense to Washington," he said. "No one in Washington is looking out for northern Michigan. The Democrats aren't serious about cutting the waste and the Republicans don't care about regular people who work for a living."
McDowell was the most prolific fundraiser - both in total and in the second quarter - among congressional challengers in the state.
Benishek's election cycle total is the sixth highest fundraising amount among candidates and he was fifth in the state for the second quarter of the year.
According to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, 66.1 percent of McDowell's fundraising came in the form of individual contributions, to 45.6 percent for Benishek.
Benishek, who replaced retiring nine-term U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, said the seat seems to be an important one for the Democratic party.
"The Democrats had this seat for 18 years and they want it back, I would say," he said. "I do the best I can to take care of issues that face northern Michigan and hope that the people of Michigan see that I'm doing that and keep me there for a while."