Ten Thousand Commandments 2020

An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State

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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 2020 edition include:

  • The aggregate cost of federal regulation remains more than $1.9 TRILLION annually – and that is a conservative estimate based on publicly available data from government, academia, and industry and the inherent unknowability of such costs
  • The cost of federal regulation to each U.S. household exceeds $14,000 annually, on average. For perspective, that equals about one-fifth (18 percent) of the average pre-tax household budget and is the second-biggest budget item after housing.
  • The $1.9 trillion regulatory burden is almost equivalent to the $2.5 trillion COVID-19 Phase 3 stimulus bill Congress passed in April 2020. COVID stimulus cost taxpayers $2.5 trillion, but regulations impose a more hidden cost of $1.9 trillion – ouch!
  • The $1.9 trillion regulatory burden is equivalent to more than 40 percent of total federal spending, which was $4.447 trillion in 2019.
  • The $1.9 trillion “hidden tax” of regulation exceeds the corporate and personal income taxes combined.
  • The cost of regulation ($1.9 trillion) + the cost of spending ($4.4 trillion) is equivalent to 30 percent of the economy (GDP $21.43 trillion). In other words, the cost of regulation combined with spending effectively negated 30 percent of what the US economy produced last year.
  • The number of new, final rules is way down under Trump: 9611 total over three years.
  • The number of pages in the Federal Register – one sort of measure of regulation – are fewer under President Trump compared to his predecessor. Trump has averaged 66,490 pages per year, compared to President Obama’s annual average of 80,420 pages per year.
  • In fiscal year 2019, the administration’s ratio for significant rules out to significant rules in was 1.7 to one. Employing all rules eliminated, the ratio was 4.3 to one, still meeting goals of Executive Order 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.”
  • The “Unconstitutionality Index”—the ratio of rules issued by agencies relative to laws passed by Congress and signed by the president — underscores the rise of the administrative state over the Constitution. There were 28 rules for every law in 2019 (there had been 11 in 2018, see Figure 23).

Note: The information in this report is based on a compilation of best available government and private data.

Ten Thousand Commandments 2020 Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Chapter 1: 9,999 Commandments? Six Ways Rule Flows Have Been Reduced or Streamlined
Chapter 2: Swamp Things—Trump’s Discordant Regulatory Impulses Threaten to Derail His Successes and Expand the Administrative State
Chapter 3: Toward a Federal “Regulatory Budget”
Chapter 4: What Comes after “Trillion”? The Unknowable Costs of Regulation and Intervention
Chapter 5: Tens of Thousands of Pages in the Federal Register
Chapter 6: Regulatory Dark Matter: Presidental Executive Orders and Memoranda
Chapter 7: Regulatory Dark Matter: Over 22,000 Public Notices Annually
Chapter 8: Analysis of the Regulatory Plan and Unified Agenda of Federal Regulations
Chapter 9: Government Accountability Office Database on Regulations
Chapter 10: Liberate to Stimulate