The federal debt isn’t the only thing doubling every few years.
Both presidential candidates have declared they will cut mounting regulatory red tape, particularly for small business.
At Hillary Clinton’s highly publicized August Futuramic factory economic speech, she promised, “As President, I will also make a major push to empower small businesses and entrepreneurs, with new national initiatives to cut red tape at every level.” Donald Trump, for his part, has said “We are cutting the regulation at a tremendous clip. I would say 70 percent of regulations can go. …It’s just stopping businesses from growing.”
That latter is pretty ambitious, but whichever wins, they’d better get out those scissors.
President Barack Obama promised us that all he needed was his pen and phone to go around Congress to enact his agenda.
Well, the Federal Register, the daily depository of all the proposed and final rules and regulations emanating from the federal bureaucracy, is new evidence he wasn’t kidding.
This morning the Federal Register clocked in at 75,314 pages for the year, putting it at number 10 among the all-time-high counts.
Furthermore, it is on a record-setting pace that will blow away the #1 all-time high record; more about that in a second.
Now, granted, the Federal Register is far from a good gauge of the true extent of regulatory burden since a rule with significant impact may take up relatively few pages and vice versa. But it’s one of the few official measures we have (why is that, I wonder?). Whatever it tells you about significant rules, the Federal Register’s volume unquestionably signifies an extraordinarily active federal government, not even taking into account the increasingly controversial regulatory guidance, memoranda, notices, letters and the like agencies use to influence policy.
Speaking of few other measures, the White House’s own Draft Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Unfunded Mandates, a report normally appearing each March, is the latest it has ever been as of October 17 (last week).
They could scare us with its revelations by Halloween, but it’s now a better bet that the cost-benefit report won’t appear until after the election. When The Hill contacted the White House, all they would say was “The report is later than planned, but [the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] is working diligently to issue the Draft 2016 report for public comment.”
I’ll take this opportunity to say it should not be delayed that long, that doing so is wrong.
But even that report, when it appears, will cover only a handful of rules for which agencies bothered to conduct cost-benefit analysis. There were just 13 White House-reviewed rules in the 2015 Report with both cost and benefit analysis, in contrast to a flow of 3,410 rules agencies issued in calendar year 2015.
The federal government readily discloses spending and the debt, but the same cannot be said for the costs and burdens of regulation on business and the public.
So we use what we have. The chart nearby is a roundup of the Top Ten Federal Register page counts, with today’s 75,314 rounding out the list.
To put this milestone into some perspective:
- Last year in 2015 it took until December 1 for the Register to top 75,000 pages.
- In 2014, it took until December 16 to top 75,000 pages.
Note that the highest count ever was 81,405 in 2010, and that the Register has topped 80,000 pages only three times in its entire history, all under President Obama. Indeed another factoid the chart shows is that, of the seven of the all-time highest page counts, six occurred under the current president.
But it is not even November yet; if the pace of well over 1,000 pages per week continues, we’ll top the 2010 record in November, easily.
That will leave the entire month of December remaining to kick the federal rulebook up to an astounding, possibly, 90,000 pages for 2016. In fact at the current pace, we’re talking 91,274 pages by the time the year’s remaining 64 days wrap up.
For some additional perspective on this magnitude, President Bill Clinton’s 2012 Federal Register occupies the #12 spot, and we have to go back to President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 Federal Register for the #14 spot.
All presidents have issued executive orders to address regulation, some clearly with more energy than others. The point is, speaking of the “pen and phone,” it can be used to reduce regulation rather than solely to expand it.
President Reagan for example, brought Jimmy Carter’s 73,258 count down to 44,812, while the number of rules during Reagan’s term fell from 7,745 in 1980 to a low of 4,589.
The unprecedented ballooning of the Federal Register in 2016 will give our new President new reasons to follow up on campaign promises to address regulation and red tape.
Originally posted at Forbes.