Navigating the maze of federal regulations in 2024: What to know

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In a bureaucratic whirlwind, the 2024 Federal Register is attaining new heights, topping 41,000 pages today. An unsettling new norm for the past few weeks has been page tallies exceeding 800 nearly each day.

A significant subset of new rules falls under the Biden administration’s designation of “Section 3(f)1 Significant” (or “S3F1”), signaling rules with annual economic effects surpassing $200 million. This adjustment from the previous threshold of $100 million underscores the administration’s commitment to impactful regulation but desire to deflect attention from the still-costly sub-$200 million cohort.

As noted over at Forbes, back in January I inventoried fully 232 of these S3F1 rules in the pre-rule, proposed and final stages.

Given that this is an election year, the Biden administration faces a certain urgency in finalizing its priorities among these high-impact rules before they become susceptible to Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions of disapproval in 2025, should the administration change hands. The process of overturning regulations via the CRA has historically proven challenging, with fewer than two dozen rules successfully repealed since its inception in 1996. Biden would and has vetoed resolutions to revoke a number of his rules, but a new administration and Congress could in 2025 revoke rules he fails to finalize early enough this year.

Therefore, the Biden administration’s strategic approach takes no chances, aiming to safeguard its transformative rules from potential reversal. That is why we see surge in fat rules in the Federal Register now, before a summer deadline.  

Looking ahead, the 2024 legislative calendar remains packed with significant rules potentially vulnerable to future overturning. While some rules may evade scrutiny due to on-time finalization, others finalized later could face reversal if the administration changes hands.

While monitoring the broad landscape of significant rules, policymakers must not overlook the subset of them falling below the $200 million threshold. These rules, though less attention-grabbing, still carry substantial economic implications and merit consideration in regulatory oversight. Below is a chart showing these rules ticking upward under Biden, likely to restore Obama-era levels as I discuss in more detail at Forbes.

The bottom line is that, as the year progresses, projections suggest a continued rise in significant rule counts, underscoring the need for comprehensive regulatory reform beyond the scope of CRA resolutions and their inherent limitations.

Initiatives such as regulatory budgeting and sunset clauses offer avenues for addressing the proliferation of regulations and promoting legislative accountability. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act is particularly important, given that it would swap the CRA’s resolution of disapproval for a requirement that Congress affirm major rules.

Congress must remain vigilant in monitoring the flow of significant rules and explore avenues for legislative reform, but even more importantly, Congress needs to rediscover the concept of enumerated powers and refrain from costly legislative enactments like the recent inflation and infrastructure laws, and the CHIPS and Science Act.

Congress fails to appreciate the extent to which these mega-laws create engines of new regulation, of which Joe Biden is happy to press the accelerator. CRA resolutions of disapproval are no match for Congress’s disregard of limitations on its own power.

For more see “Confronting A Surge In Costly Federal Rules,” Forbes.