Bush Years Imposed Crushing Regulatory Burdens

Bush Years Imposed Crushing Regulatory Burdens

July 14, 2011
Originally published in The Washington Examiner

Among the biggest lies told by liberals over the past few years is that the administration of President George W. Bush was some sort of deregulatory cascade, where rule after rule was rolled back, putting the public in more and more danger.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bush years saw a massive bloating of the regulatory state, with more and more rules being issued by an out-of-control executive branch that didn't seem to care what it's only elected member thought about it.

To be sure, the Bush White House tried to reduce the rate of new regulation, but it certainly couldn't reduce the size and scope of the regulatory state. We don't just have staffing numbers and budgets to back this up.

We have the documentary evidence of the Federal Register itself, where new regulations are published every week, and also the Code of Federal Regulations, which is the regulatory equivalent of the Tax Code and its regulations.

In 2007, to take a year at random from the Bush years, the Federal Register weighed in at 72,000 pages for the year (perhaps government lawyers get paid by the word?), while the CFR topped out at 145,816 pages -- 8,000 pages longer than it was in 2000.

Page counts don't tell you everything, though. The real indicator is the number of so-called "major rules" that have effects on nearly every American, whether, for example, by increasing the cost of our automobiles, or by putting more burdens on our local education departments, or increasing the cost of our local taxes.

The Bush administration brought in more than 70 new major regulations that increased burdens on Americans, compared with 23 that reduced them (those the Left complains about).

Interestingly, the agencies that were not responsible to the White House's regulatory approval, like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, were responsible for more than half of the deregulatory moves, so it's not as if the Bush administration can claim much credit (or blame, if you're on the Left) for them, either.

There's also the "Regulatory Plan and the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions," which appears in the Federal Register each December.

It lists rules that have recently been completed together with those anticipated for the next 12 months by each of the 60 federal agencies that have rulemaking powers. It's therefore a great guide to how the regulatory pipeline is flowing.

The agenda also tells us what rules are "economically significant" -- meaning that they'll have an effect on the nation of more than $100 million when implemented.

There were 184 of these in 2009, so the cost to the nation will be at least $18 billion, but it could well be far more than that.

The agenda doesn't tell us how much the rule will cost, just whether it's more than $100 million. One thing we do know about the agenda's rules is how many of them will significantly affect small businesses, thanks to the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

The 2009 agenda listed 758 such rules, more than 60 percent of them from just five agencies -- the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission.

We also know how many rules involve the feds getting state and local governments to do their dirty work for them. The Unfunded Mandates Act, passed in 1995 to rein in this practice, requires such rules to be highlighted.

In 2009, 514 rules will affect state governments and 328 will affect local governments.