Obama the Restrained Regulator?

by Patrick Brennan

In his big speech on the economy yesterday in Ohio, the president railed against those who claimed that “fewer regulations” would benefit the economy, and praised regulations as absolutely necessary, but then went on to defend himself by claiming that he has “approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.” This seemingly surprising claim is in fact true, but only in the most superficial sense. According to a Bloomberg report, President Bush enacted 643 regulations during his first three years in office, while President Obama has introduced 613.

Obviously, the kinds of regulations and their impact are a much more meaningful measure of the heavy-handedness of a president than the sheer number of all federal rules, and here, Obama outdoes Bush easily: He has enacted 129 major rules in the time President Bush enacted just 90 (a “major” rule is defined by the GAO as one with an economic impact of more than $100 million, or that has otherwise significant effects on consumer prices, exporter competitiveness, etc.). Further, the president has enacted at least two huge omnibus bills that inevitably mean many more broad regulations to come: Dodd Frank and the health-care-reform law. We’ve seen comparatively few of Dodd Frank’s rules, in particular, officially submitted, as Nicole Gelinas has pointed out. So worry not: If Obama’s behind pace in his first three years, he may catch back up to pace soon enough.

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