One week after he signed Executive Order No. 13563, mandating that all executive branch agencies “identify and consider regulatory approaches that reduce burdens,” President Obama delivered his 2011 State of the Union Address: “When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them,” the chief executive declared on Jan. 25, to applause from the joint session of Congress.
Yet over the course of the year that ensued, a new study finds, the Obama administration enacted 32 new “major” regulations – rules that carry an estimated price tag of $100 million or more. These measures stand to cost the U.S. economy $10 billion a year, along with an additional $6.6 billion in first-time implementation costs.
Federal data marshaled in “Red Tape Rising,” a report by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, convey an even starker picture of regulatory growth during the Obama administration’s first three years. Since January 2009, 106 new “major” regulations have been enacted, at a total estimated cost of $46 billion, plus almost $11 billion more in implementation costs.
This track record leads the study’s author, Heritage senior fellow James Gattuso, to label President Obama “the No. 1” regulator in American history.
“Now, there is some competition – and competition not just from Democrats, but from Republicans,” Gattuso hastened to add, in an interview with Fox News. “Both of the Bushes engaged in a lot of regulation, if you look at the record. But on present track, President Obama may be the most pro-regulation president we have ever had."
The greatest number of new major regulations issued last year – a full dozen of them – sprang from the massive overhaul of the financial services sector known as “Dodd-Frank,” a law sponsored by then-Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and signed into law by Obama.
The most expensive new regulations, however, emanated from the Environmental Protection Agency, which issued four “major” rules costing the U.S. economy an estimated $4 billion a year.
Spending outlays for the nation’s major federal regulatory agencies has grown with breathtaking speed over the last half-century – and under presidents of both parties. Such expenditures totaled $533 million under President Kennedy; reached $7.29 billion by the middle of Jimmy Carter’s on term in office; skyrocketed to $25.49 billion by the end of the 1990s; and are projected at $57.33 billion for the end of this year.
“There's a predisposition among agencies, both under Republican control and Democratic control, to expand regulation,” Gattuso told Fox News. “If you're not doing that, you feel like you're not doing your job.”
Supporters of the Obama White House contend that studies like the Heritage Foundation’s can never quantify the savings amassed when a given regulation does its job: prevents an outbreak of E. coli that would devastate the American beef industry, for example, or averts another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with its catastrophic effects on energy, tourism and other sectors of the economy.
“I think the real question is not how many regulations [President Obama] did, but how good they were, how smart they were,” says Scott Lilly, a veteran of three decades on Capitol Hill who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank. “I think [regulation] is driven much more by the events of the times that we live in than it is by the ideology of whoever's in the White House.”