This Thanksgiving, Big Government Is the Turkey

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The turkeys Peanut Butter and Jelly got a Thanksgiving pardon from Joe Biden at the White House.

Presentation of a turkey to the POTUS is a 76-year-old ritual, courtesy of the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board (known as the American Egg Board since the 1970s).

Unofficial presentations in various formats date back to the Lincoln and Grant administrations. The old-school dressed and boxed approach “ruled out a pardon” back in the day. The newer tradition came by  way of the the first President George Bush.

Now the pardoning is a ritual, a popular and somewhat comical reprieve for a plump and perhaps grateful bird whose selection even includes a stay at the Willard Hotel.

But at an anxious time when people with economic matters foremost in mind are expressing concerns over employment, inflation and the economy, there are other turkeys showing their feathers. Big government, in the form of all-time-high spending and debt (and with another debt-ceiling confrontation looming) is one of them.

Government regulation is another gobbler, an impenetrable burden that easily rivals spending, yet is being teed up to escalate still more as a side effect of the spending measures enacted during and in the wake of Covid’s peak. We all seem to gain weight over the holidays, but an extra unexpected helping of regulatory intervention force-fed by Washington is is something the economy can ill-afford.

As it happens, of the same age as the turkey ceremony is the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act, the law that governs the writing and issuing of federal  rules and regulations. Under former president Donald Trump’s Department of Justice there were calls to “modernize” the process.

That agenda never saw the light of day, but a “pardon” of sorts for the public from new regulations was implemented by former president Donald Trump and his “one-in, two-out” cost-freeze approach, which along with several other Trump reforms, has been forcefully revoked by Joe Biden. It’s not the season yet for the comparison … but it was kinda like that magician in Frosty the Snowman snatching back the hat.

There are always more than 3,000 rules issued annually these days, except for a lone year when Trump came in just under that threshold even with some of his “rules” being “deregulatory.”

So far, 2,879 final rules have been issued during 2021. But no matter who is president or where the final rule count happens to land, the federal bureaucracy issues more laws than the Congress elected to perform the lawmaking job bestowed upon it (not upon agencies) by the Constitution. That’s why the interest in APA modernization was welcome for the short time it lasted.

Consider: the year 2020 concluded with Congress passing 178 laws; but, even under Trump, dozens of executive and independent agencies issued 3,353 rules (again, some uniquely deregulatory). That meant that agencies issued 19 rules for every law Congress passed in 2020, a ratio that has averaged 28 over the past decade.

Federal agencies are more free to roam than Peanut Butter and Jelly now, so watch for rule counts to surge in the coming months and next couple years, barriing the unlikely event that a substantial number of them get blocked in some manner by the 118th Congress to be seated in 2023.

The arrival of the Regulatory Turkey is particularly evident with the return of the number of so-called “significant rules” to Obama and Bush heights of several hundred per year.

As of today, there have been 332 significant rules issued in 2021 with over a month to go; the highest under Trump during any calendar year was 214, the lowest, 69 — again, some of which were intentionally deregulatory.

During the Covid episode, outside analysts and some in both Congress and the Trump administration fretted over regulatory barriers and the impact of regulation on jobs and its potential hindrance to pandemic recovery. Trump issued executive orders on regulatory relief tailored to that very concern.

But even with the negative effects of the crisis itself, compounded by state, local and federal interventions, the “deregulatory stimulus” mindset not only didn’t carry over into the Biden administration, it has been explicitly rejected; first in the form of repudiation by executive order as noted; and second in the form of new intervention, not only with respect to the aforementioned rule counts, but also via epic-scale spending programs that will inflict sweeping new forms of government interference ranging from nationalizing crucial infrastructure decisions that should be made by the private sector, all the way down to helicopter-parenting the American household by replacing the decisions of healthy adults with government “meddle class” preferences. Biden and the progressives uniformly call what they are doing “transformative,” and it is.

Unfortunately, the regulatory state, as a national public policy matter, rarely grabs the attention that spending and the debt do, but it should. (We attempt to lay out rulemaking trends in Ten Thousand CommandmentsTip of the Costberg, and the latter’s series of charts).

Occasionally there are proclamations and executive orders even from Democratic presidents to bring more transparency and rationality to the rulemaking process. Unfortunate the Biden camp is not the least bit attuned to any of that. Dullness of federal regulation as a public policy issue aside, presidents and Congress are going to need to address the federal governments growing displacement of the private economy and private life with an urgent campaign to address spending and the exploitation of crisis in which we observe progressive politicians engaging. Reformers should be alarmed, and they should recognize the urgency of taking action well before the next economic shock befalls the nation.

Read the full article at Forbes.