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President Barack Obama’s federal budget for fiscal year (FY) 2011 proposes $3.83 trillion in discretionary, entitlement, and interest spending.1 In the previous fiscal year, the president had proposed $3.552 trillion. For reference, George W. Bush had proposed the first-ever $3 trillion U.S. budget. In fact, President Bush was also the first to propose a $2 trillion federal budget—in 2002, a scant eight years ago.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects FY 2010 spending will end up at $3.524 trillion. The result: thanks to the bailout and “stimulus” frenzy, a projected FY 2010 deficit of a previously unthinkable $1.349 trillion, down slightly from 2009.
To be sure, many other countries’ governments consume more of their national output than the U.S. government does. However, in absolute terms, the U.S. government is the largest government on planet Earth, whether one looks at revenues or expenditures.
Those costs fully convey the federal government’s on-budget scope, and they are sobering enough. Yet the government’s reach extends well beyond the taxes that Washington collects and the deficit spending and borrowing now surging. Federal environmental, safety and health, and economic regulations cost hundreds of billions of dollars every year over and above the costs of the official federal outlays that now dominate the policy agenda.
Firms generally pass along to consumers the costs of some taxes. Likewise, some regulatory compliance costs that businesses face will find their way into consumer prices. Precise regulatory costs can never be fully known, because, unlike taxes, they are unbudgeted and often indirect. But scattered government and private data exist on scores of regulations and on the agencies that issue them, as well as on regulatory costs and benefits. Some of that information can be compiled to make the regulatory state somewhat more comprehensible. That is one purpose of the annual Ten Thousand Commandments report, highlights of which appear next.