When it comes to regulations, President Obama’s message to his conservative critics seems to be: Message received. Early last year, he vowed to crack down on overzealous rule-making, noting that the “rules have gotten out of balance” and “have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.” He’s right - they have.
But actions speak louder than words, don’t they? Regardless of how tough the president may talk on regulation, his administration has enacted far more major regulations - and significantly more expensive ones - over the first three years of his presidency than the George W. Bush administration enacted during its first three years.
This runs counter to what we’ve heard from the president’s apologists. Over the past several months, they’ve been bragging about his rule-making record. As the president himself said during his most recent State of the Union address: “I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.”
But a new report from the Heritage Foundation, “Red Tape Rising,” shows just the opposite is true. This administration has been on a rule-making tear.
Specifically, during the three years of the Obama administration, 106 new major regulations have been imposed at a price tag of more than $46 billion annually - and that’s on top of nearly $11 billion in one-time implementation costs.
How does this compare to the number of major regulations that were imposed under President Bush? It’s almost four times higher. And the cost? About five times higher. Something’s “gotten out of balance,” all right. With so many rules being laid on the backs of businesses both large and small, is it any surprise that job creation has been so slow for much of the latest economic recovery?
In December, the National Federation of Independent Business asked small-business owners to name their single biggest problem. The No. 1 choice, named by 19 percent of those who responded, was “regulations and red tape.” It came in ahead of “poor sales” (though it’s easy to see how all these new rules depress sales). That’s up from 15 percent a year ago. Clearly, the regulatory burden is getting heavier.
You can be sure that the weight of that burden is being shared. The costs of these regulations are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices and limited product choices. Take the price controls that bureaucrats slapped last year on the fees that banks may charge to process debit-card transactions. They prompted banks to cancel many rewards programs and free services. They also led to higher fees on checking accounts and credit cards.
Hardly an area of our lives goes untouched by regulation. The new rules for last year alone cover many consumer items, including refrigerators, freezers, clothes dryers, air conditioners and energy standards for fluorescent lights. There were new testing and labeling requirements for toys, limits on automotive emissions of “greenhouse gases,” requirements for posting federal labor rules and more explicit warnings for cigarette packages. The list goes on.
The main troublemaker? The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. It alone is responsible for 12 major rules - so far, that is. Hundreds more Dodd-Frank rules remain to be written. Then there are the rules still to come from Obamacare and the Environmental Protection Agency’s global-warming crusade.
That’s why it’s crucial for Congress to take some common-sense steps now. It can start by requiring congressional approval of any new major regulations that agencies promulgate. Another why-haven’t-they-thought-of-it-sooner solution: requiring that all major regulations have an expiration (sunset) date.
“This regulatory tide is not expected to ebb anytime soon,” warns “Red Tape Rising.” Let’s act now - before we’re all under water.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).