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EDITORIAL: We need a red-tape recession

Bureaucratic decrees grow while the economy tanks

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New layers of centralized directives are the last thing needed in a time of deep economic uncertainty. However, the Obama administration continues to pile on new regulations, unwilling to let go of any opportunity to expand the government's reach into our lives.

In a report issued last month, researchers at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center and the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis quantified the growth in federal spending on regulatory activities over the course of the past 50 years. They found that, when it comes to intrusive bureaucratic edicts, there is no recession.

The study showed how the amount of taxpayer money devoted to rule-making agencies has increased 76 percent in real dollar terms in just the past decade. President Obama's 2011 budget proposed a 4.1 percent regulatory boost on top of last year's porky 8.9 percent spending hike.

The trajectory is ever-skyward for an obvious reason. Washington measures dedication to a worthy goal not in terms of results actually achieved, but in terms of dollars spent. So the current budget, for example, dedicates an extra $1.6 billion to "homeland security" - $1.4 billion of which goes to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This means, in Washington-speak, that the administration has a heightened commitment to safety.

Unfortunately, as recent events such as the Christmas Day bombing attempt have demonstrated, such commitments are of little practical value. Airline passengers acting on their own initiative have done more to protect themselves than the pointless, politically correct decrees handed down by a better-funded TSA bureaucracy.

The hassles imposed on members of the public forced to wait in long lines at the airport are insignificant when compared with the hurdles businesses face as a result of the ever-sprawling output of government regulatory bodies. The Federal Register's premier issue, published on March 14, 1936, contained all of the orders signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that week. It was 16 pages long. The compilation of executive branch decrees handed down last year alone totaled 68,598 pages. The 2009 Code of Federal Regulations grew to 163,333 pages - not counting more than 550 cubic feet worth of material incorporated by reference. Even though it would take a speed reader a lifetime to get through this mountain of paperwork, the collection holds the full force of law, binding businesses and individuals alike to ever more red tape that continues to strangle their ability to create and produce.

The question seldom asked is: Has there been an appreciable benefit to society from the hundreds of thousands of pages of federal dictates published since the beginning of the decade? Surely society could survive at the year 2000's level of bureaucratic meddling. Doing so would save taxpayers a cool $22 billion a year and reduce the number of federal busybodies by 100,000. Not only would such a change help trim the out-of-control deficit, it would provide quite a bit of much-needed regulatory relief that the private sector needs to grow.

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