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Toward a Federal "Regulatory Budge"

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Toward a Federal "Regulatory Budge"

Ten Thousand Commandments 2020 - Chapter 3

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When Congress spends, no one questions that disclosure is necessary for voters to hold representatives accountable. Federal expenditure programs are funded by either raising taxes or borrowing against a promise to repay with interest from future tax collections. Taxpayers can readily observe those decisions during the authorization and appropriations processes (not that it is a simple thing to do). They can inspect the costs of programs and agencies in Congressional Budget Office (CBO) publications340 and the federal budget’s historical tables.341 The point is, disclosure exists for spending, however extravagant it may be.

However, Congress often “funds” objectives and programs through regulatory mandates. Regulation and spending are related; both are mechanisms by which governments act or compel individuals. Rather than taxing and paying directly, federal regulation can compel the private sector, as well as state and local governments, to bear the costs of federal initiatives (and that too, is regulation). Regulation in such instances functions as an off-budget form of taxation and spending. Although disclosure of spending does not stop deficits and debt from growing, it is still vital for making progress toward those ends. Likewise, policy makers should disclose regulatory costs to the extent possible so that the choice to regulate can at least have an opportunity to get the full consideration it deserves.

Because the costs and economic effects of regulatory compliance are not budgeted and disclosed the way that federal spending is, regulatory initiatives can commandeer private sector resources with comparatively little public controversy. Policy makers may find it easier to impose regulatory costs than to embark on government spending because of the former’s lack of disclosure and accountability. And when regulatory compliance costs prove burdensome, Congress can escape accountability by blaming an agency for issuing an unpopular rule. Table 2 provides a 2020 overview of the federal regulatory enterprise to be discussed in the following pages.

Table 2. The Regulatory State: A 2020 Overview

 

Year-End 2019

1-Year Change (2018–2019)

5-Year Change (2015–2019)

10-Year Change (2010–2019)

Total regulatory costs

$1.9 trillion

n/a

n/a

n/a

Agency enforcement budgets

$72.0 billion

0.88%

9.4%

145%

Federal Register pages

70,938

14.0%

–11.6%

–12.9%

Devoted to final rules

20,986

15.4%

–15.0%

–15.8%

Federal Register final rules

2,964

–12.0%

–13.1%

–17.0%

Code of Federal Regulations pages

185,984

0.3%

4.3%

12.4%

Total rules in Agenda pipeline

3,752

6.2%

13.8%

–11.2%

Completed

546

13.8%

–1.4%

–24.4%

Active

2,602

8.5%

16.0%

–3.5%

Long term

604

–7.8%

21.0%

–252.0%

“Economically significant” rules in the yearend pipeline

 

192

 

10.3%

 

–11.9%

 

–14.3%

Completed

44

76.0%

–22.2%

–13.7%

Active

119

0.8%

–20.1%

–15.0%

Long term

29

–6.5%

–12.1%

–12.1%

Rules affecting small business

644

6.4%

–4.5%

–23.8%

Regulatory flexibility analysis required

347

5.2%

–10.1%

–18.9%

Regulatory flexibility analysis not required

297

8.0%

3.1%

–28.8%

Rules affecting state governments

386

18.0%

–5.6%

–29.4%

Rules affecting local governments

232

16.6%

–9.0%

–32.9%

GAO Congressional Review Act reports on major rules

 

74

 

34.5%

 

–3.9%

 

–26.0%

n/a = not applicable.

Read Chapter 4: What Comes after “Trillion”? The Unknowable Costs of Regulation and Intervention

Read Chapter 2: Swamp Things—Trump’s Discordant Regulatory Impulses Threaten to Derail His Successes and Expand the Administrative State

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