Regulation Nation?

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 19, 2012 – Thursday morning, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing: “Regulation Nation: The Obama Administration’s Regulatory Expansion vs. Jobs and Economic Recovery.”

Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author CEI’s annual Ten Thousand Commandments report on the hidden costs of regulations, commended the committee for addressing the nation’s regulatory woes.

Said Crews, who also is the author of a working paper titled, “Tip of the Costberg:”

Regulations from both parties have morphed into the Other National Debt. That’s why tomorrow’s hearing is so important.

The economic impact of regulations and compliance amount to half the level of the annual fiscal budget, based upon a preliminary roundup in the “Tip of the Costberg” working paper.

In two executive orders since January 2011, President Obama instructed agencies to review and roll back rules. But we don’t know the full recent impact, because the Spring 2012 Unified Agenda has yet to appear, although fall is mere hours away. The General Services Administration admitted last week it does not yet have a date as to when the Spring Unified Agenda will publish.

But the Fall 2011 agenda and earlier iterations still provide useful information for this hearing. For example, the Agendas show President Obama’s administration issued far more “economically significant” rules in his first three years than his predecessor. (Economically significant rules generally are rules expected to cost $100 million annually. President Bush issued 241 during his first three years; Obama issued 401.)

For the broader “significant” category of rules (economically significant rules plus rules considered officially significant for other reasons noted in E.O. 12866), Obama has issued 22 percent more final rules in his first four years than President Bush did. That’s startling, considering 2012 isn’t finished and considering the costly rules being held back by the administration.

Here’s the significant rule breakdown (again, it’s broader than the economically significant subset):

                            Year in Office        Bush          Obama

1st                        295            371

2nd                       284            419

3rd                        336            444

4th                        321            272 (as of Sept. 14)

Total:                   1236          1506

Furthermore, the Federal Register added more pages – about 81,000 per year – over the last two years than at any point in history. As of Sept. 19, the Register stands at 58,300 pages.

Big regulation is bipartisan. Bush brought us a massive homeland security bureaucracy, the Sarbanes-Oxley law, increased Medicare rules and more. Both presidents’ final rules on small business are comparable and substantial.

CEI has long argued our country desperately needs greater regulatory transparency, relief and accountability. We can achieve transparency and relief through strengthened executive orders, by institutionalizing a Regulatory Report Card that makes regulation as salient as on-budget spending, and through regulatory liberalization. We can achieve accountability through measures I’ve proposed in the spirit of the REINS act, which requires elected representatives to approve what unelected agency personnel impose. The House has acted on many such reforms. The Senate? We’re still waiting.