Great moments in regulation

I watch too much political news. There… I said it. I know this because it took me only a moment to recall numerous individuals from the president on down the line to various Democratic members of congress and spokespersons who had accused the GOP of “wanting to remove important regulations” which protect everyone. Oddly enough, that’s not how I remember it, though. Perhaps it’s just old age setting in, but I seem to recall the Republicans trying slow the shocking rate of growth of costly regulations. How fast has the regulatory pace gotten? The Wall Street Journal takes up the question.

The White House is on the political offensive, and one of its chief claims is that it isn’t the overregulator of business and Republican lore. This line has been picked up by impressionable columnists, so it’s a good time to consider the evidence in some detail.

Jan Eberly, an Assistant Treasury Secretary, kicked off the Administration campaign with a white paper in October that purported to debunk the “misconceptions” that “uncertainty is holding back business investment and hiring and that the overall burden of existing regulations is so high that firms have reduced their hiring.” Then the Administration mobilized some of the worst offenders, such as Kathleen Sebelius of HHS (“There has been no explosion of new rules”) and Lisa Jackson of the EPA (her opponents are “using the economy as cover”).

To answer the most basic question—has regulation increased?—we’ll focus on what the government defines as “economically significant” regulations. Those are rules that impose more than $100 million in annual costs on the economy, though there are hundreds if not thousands of new rules every year that fall well short of that.

According to an analysis of the Federal Register by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, the Cabinet departments and agencies finalized 84 such regulations annually on average in President Obama’s first two years. The annual average under President Bush was 62 and under President Clinton 56.

Sometimes a picture is worth more words than I’d care to type, so let’s look at the graphical analysis.

Rising Regulation

Even Cass Sunstein, the director of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said during this interview that the “pipeline was clogged” with regulations waiting to go into the review process. (A somewhat ironic choice of words, given that pipelines are precisely what we seem unable to get built, partly thanks to the aforementioned spate of regulations.) But the numbers are clear. Even if we limit the discussion to only regulations which cost you more than $100M this administration is setting records at a breathtaking pace.

Related: Be sure to check out Fred Upton’s editorial at National Review, “Obama’s Regulatory Burden.”

In the next few days, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue another final regulation directed at electricity utilities. This rule, known as the Utility MACT, will impose an estimated $11 billion each year in new costs on our economy. It will threaten electricity-generating capacity in many parts of the country. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this administration’s runaway rulemaking.

Jobs? We don’t need no steeenking jobs.