In a widely cited year-end interview with National Public Radio, President Obama warned Republicans that:
Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I’ve got to pull that [veto] pen out. And I’m going to defend gains that we’ve made in health care; I’m going to defend gains that we’ve made on environment and clean air and clean water.
With respect to the wisdom of using the veto to entrench what some regard as recent federal over-reach, it will remain for Obama’s Democratic colleagues to decide whether it is the President or Republicans that misread the mid-term elections.
At one point, the President himself claimed he got the message from those who’d presumably had enough (“So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you.”).
Time will tell. For now, let’s just look at one highly relevant aspect of government activity in this very real controversy–federal regulation. It is mounting as the Obama agenda on energy, environment, health care and financial control cements itself.
The Federal Register is the daily depository of proposed and final rules and regulations, executive orders, memos, agency notices and other material.
As 2014 draws to a close and with the New Year about to begin, President Obama is delivering another record-level Federal Register, this one to be the fifth or sixth highest unless the last day of the year brings an even greater deluge than I expect. As of December 30, it stands at 78,600 pages.
Number of Federal Register Pages, 2002-14
The reason that matters is that, whatever the final tally, we can tell that of the six highest-ever page counts since the Register first appeared in 1936, five now belong to Obama. (George W. Bush’s final year, 2008, was once the record-holder at 79,435.)
Here are some relevant recent annual roundups.
2008: 79,435 pages (That was George W. Bush; and at the time, the record-setter)
2009: 68,598 pages (Obama’s first year; a big decline that once looked promising…)
2010: 81,405 pages (Obama sets all time record-high Federal Register page count)
2011: 81,247 pages (Obama sets second-highest record)
2012: 78,961 pages
2013: 79,311 pages
2014: 78,600 pages (with December 31 still to go, 2014 will be either 5th or 6th highest)
As of December 30, 2014, the Federal Register stands at 78,600 pages; the 31st will push it up to either fifth or sixth place, behind Obama’s other years that topped 79,000 pages.
The official published bound and PDF versions of the Register are actually a little higher, at 78,688 on the 30th, but eventually the official tally will omit skips and blanks, which I net out already as part of a daily roundup. (For reference, here’s a chart with Federal Register page counts going back to 1936.)
The Federal Register page count is a long way from a perfect or even adequate proxy for regulation, but the lack of good data is a fixture of our government that won’t measure itself.
We do know the year’s tally for rules and regulations stands at 3,525 rules with another day to go. Another 2,361 rules have been proposed so far this year.
For some added perspective on the administrative state, the accompanying bookshelf photo is one I took in Sen. Mike Lee’s office (R-Utah) back in 2013. See
the tiny stack on top of the shelf? That’s a stack of the Public Laws passed by Congress and signed by the president in 2013.
Filling the shelves, though, is the Federal Register for just 2013 alone.
Sen. Lee introduced legislation in the last Congress called the “Regulatory Cost Assessment Act,” to implement a “regulatory budget” of sorts. It recognizes that unelected regulators do most lawmaking in America. On top of that, the administration promises to circumvent Congress to implement its agenda and defend objections with the veto, besides.
Efforts to reform and liberalize the federal regulatory process should not be vetoed by this president. The debate will be an interesting one to watch to determine what counts as gains worth defending; Regulation seemingly without limit, or a constitutional republic.