Is Bush or Obama the Bigger Regulator?

President Obama correctly pointed out in his State of the Union speech that he passed fewer regulations in his first three years than President Bush. Over at the Daily Caller, Wayne Crews crunched the numbers and found that Bush passed 12,588 regulations to Obama’s 10,810.

That’s an average of 4,196 rules per year for Bush, and 3,603 for Obama — nearly two fewer rules per day. For those who believe that Bush was a free-marketeer, Obama has given us another nail for that myth’s well-sealed coffin.

But that doesn’t mean President Obama is less of a regulator than his predecessor. He has passed fewer rules, but they tend to cost more. Regulations are classified as “significant” if they cost over $100 million per year. There are different technical definitions for “significant,” “economically significant,” and “major.” And the Federal Register gives different counts than NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration.

With those caveats in mind, the Federal Register data have President Bush passing 30 economically significant regulations in his first three years. Obama passed 953.

The difference is more than a factor of 30. Roughly one quarter of one percent of Bush’s rules were economically significant. Almost 9 percent of Obama’s are.

What the president said on Tuesday is technically correct. But, as with almost all political statements, there is more to the story.