Ten Thousand Commandments is the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual survey of the size, scope, and cost of federal regulations, and how they affect American consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy at large. Written by CEI Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews, it shines a light on the large and under-appreciated “hidden tax” of America’s regulatory state. The current edition marks 26 years since the first report was published as part of the Journal of Regulation and Social Costs in 1993.
Federal government spending, deficits, and the national debt are staggering, but so is the impact of federal regulations. Unfortunately, the financial impact of these rules gets little attention in policy debates because, unlike spending and taxes, they are unbudgeted and difficult to quantify.
By making Washington’s rules and mandates more comprehensible, Crews underscores the need for more review, transparency, and accountability for new and existing federal regulations.
The 2020 report urges Congress to take responsibility by reviewing, debating, and voting on the most costly regulations. Specific reforms include: Executive Orders to permanently repeal recently waived regulations that were harming the coronavirus response, sunset dates for regulations, annual regulatory report cards with standardized, searchable information on existing and upcoming rules, and an independent regulatory reform commission to review existing regulations and recommend which ones to repeal.
Highlights from the 2019 edition include:
- The estimated $1.9 trillion “hidden tax” of regulation is greater than the corporate and personal income taxes combined. If the cost of federal regulations were a country, it would be the 9th largest, behind India and just ahead of Canada.
- Each U.S. household’s estimated regulatory burden is at least $14,615 annually on average. That amounts to 20 percent of the average pre-tax household budget and exceeds every item in that budget, except housing.
- In 2018, the Trump administration issued 3,368 rules. That’s more than the 3,281 final rules in 2017, which was the lowest number of regulations coming out of federal agencies in a single year since the National Archives began publishing rule counts in 1976.
- The estimated regulatory cost burden is equivalent to more than 40 percent of the level of total federal spending, projected to be $4.4 trillion in 2019.
- In 2018, Washington bureaucrats issued regulations at a rate of 11 for every one law Congress enacted. The average for this “Unconstitutionality Index” for the past decade has been 28 to one. The five agencies issuing the most rules are the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury.
- In 207, President Trump’s first year, the Federal Register finished at 61,308 pages, the lowest count since 1993 and a 36 percent drop from former President Barack Obama’s 95,894 pages, which had been the highest level in history. The 2018 Federal Register rose to 68,082 pages (however Trump’s rollback of rules can add to rather than subtract from the Register).
- In the pipeline now, 67 federal departments, agencies, and commissions have 3,534 regulatory actions at various stages of implementation (recently “Completed,” “Active,” and “Long-term” stages), according to the fall 2018 “Regulatory Plan and the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.”
- Of the 3,534 regulations in the Agenda’s pipeline, 174 are “economically significant” rules, which the federal government describes as having annual economic effects of $100 million or more. Of those 174, 38 are deemed “deregulatory” for purposes of E.O. 13,771.
Note: The information in this report is based on a compilation of best available government and private data.