Who’s the Bigger Regulator: Bush or Obama?

During his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama got applause for acknowledging that some federal regulations are outdated, unnecessary or costly.

He went on to claim, “In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.”

That’s technically true: President George W. Bush did issue more final rules during the first three years of his presidency than President Obama has during his first three years. The data I’ve posted here at the Ten Thousand Commandments page, and in the chart below, make that fairly clear. President Bush wasn’t much of a de-regulator.

But President Obama’s claim that he’s less of a regulator than Bush is misleading, assuming the Federal Register online database is correct, particularly with respect to its alarming aggregation of economically significant rules. (There are differences between final rule tallies from the online database and figures supplied by the National Archives and Records Administration, but those differences are small.)

What really matters isn’t the number of new rules per se, but the number of new rules that are economically significant — meaning they are anticipated to have a $100 million or more impact on the economy (and that impact is almost always negative) — and the number of new rules that will have major effects on small businesses. According to the Federal Register, the Obama administration has issued far more of these regulations than the Bush administration did (see chart). So the story is not as simple as “Bush issued more regulations.”

 Ultimately, Congress needs to be made more accountable for these regulations. The REINS Act approach, proposed by Kentuckians Rep. Geoff Davis and Sen. Rand Paul, would have Congress perform at least an expedited vote on all economically significant rules.