The $600 Billion Man: A New Report Highlights One Cost of the Obama Legacy

As if taxes haven’t been high enough, the U.S. Government also forced Americans to spend an eye-watering $1.9 trillion in 2016 just to comply with federal regulations. That’s according to the latest annual “10,000 Commandments” report released today by Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “If it were a country, U.S. regulation would be the world’s seventh-largest economy, ranking behind India and ahead of Italy,” notes Mr. Crews. He adds that our regulatory tab is nearly as large as the total pretax profits of corporations.

Mr. Crews has become one of the most hated men in Washington by tabulating the hidden costs—those not counted in the roughly $4 trillion of direct federal spending—that politicians and bureaucrats impose on the American economy. And nobody imposed more than Barack Obama. According to the Crews annual scorecards, the yearly cost of federal regulation soared by more than $700 billion in nominal dollars from 2008, the last full year of the Bush Administration, through Mr. Obama’s final full year of 2016. Adjusting for inflation, you can call Mr. Obama the $600 Billion Man.

One measure of the amount of red tape spewing out of Washington is the number of pages of proposed and final rules printed in the Federal Register. “Of the top 10 all-time-high Federal Register page counts, seven occurred under President Barack Obama,” notes Mr. Crews. And let’s hope that Mr. Obama’s latest record, set on his final lap in 2016, will never be broken. Mr. Crews reports that the register “finished 2016 at 95,894 pages, the highest level in its history and 19 percent higher than the previous year’s 80,260 pages.”

Some readers will argue that the $600 billion figure wildly understates the costs inflicted on the U.S. economy by Mr. Obama given increases in on-the-books federal spending and the creation of future federal spending commitments. But on that score he must share the blame. It’s not easy to precisely assign responsibility between the executive branch and the Congress for each dollar of the historic increase in federal outlays that occurred early in the Obama presidency or the relative moderation that occurred after Republicans took control of the House in 2010.

In contrast, the executive branch is largely responsible for the costs of regulation. Yes, a Democratic Congress had to agree with Mr. Obama to enact laws like Dodd-Frank and ObamaCare that created new burdens, but the regulatory agencies have enjoyed broad discretion in deciding just how heavy those burdens will be and upon whom they will fall. And much of the Obama increase, especially in the area of environmental regulation, was due to new Obama interpretations of existing laws, not new legislation.

So our 44th president owns the additional $600 billion annual regulatory burden that he’s placed on American shoulders. This is real money, and to put it in context this column looked at the most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Based on these data, the hidden Obama tax is more than twice what American consumers spend each year on gasoline and motor oil ($249 billion) and more than three times what we spend on electricity ($186 billion). It’s more than we spend on food while dining in ($529 billion) or dining out ($400 billion). It’s also roughly nine times the $66 billion that American consumers spend on alcoholic beverages, and your humble correspondent suspects there may be a connection here.

This column also suspects that the staggering burden of government rules has a lot to do with the historically slow growth of the Obama era and the expectation that President Trump will announce his intention to exit the Paris climate agreement this week.

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal