Obama’s Regulatory Record

How many of you were surprised to hear President Obama brag about his record as a light regulator during the State of the Union address? I was. Here is what he said: “In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.”

At first I was impressed by what seemed to be the president’s admission that the financial crisis wasn’t caused by deregulation. But then I wondered whether his statement was correct. I mean, President Bush issued a lot of regulations, but this president is no slacker when it comes to regulating our lives.

That’s why I checked with Wayne Crews over at CEI who tracks the number of regulations proposed and passed. As you can see, so far today, 16 new rules and 218 more pages were added to the federal register. And 277 new rules were added since the beginning of the year.

How does that compare with President Bush? Here is what Crews’s data shows:

  • During the first three years of their respective terms, Obama did indeed finalize fewer rules: an average of 3,603 yearly from 2009–2011 compared to Bush’s three-year annual average of 4,196 from 2001–2003.

  • Obama finalized more (620) “economically significant” rules, than did Bush (420). These are rules that generally have at least a $100 million impact annually: Dodd-Frank, EPA, and Department of Transportation mandates, for example.

Crews also noted that the number of regulations passed annually by President Bush followed a downward trend; the reverse was true for President Obama. 

But perhaps more important, the main reason Obama hasn’t yet surpassed Bush on the regulatory front is probably that many of the rules that will make up Obama’s regulatory legacy haven’t yet been written. Check out this picture of the 1,623-page book that contains all the Dodd-Frank statutes. David Polk has some interesting data about Dodd-Frank. For instance, as of the end of 2011, 200 of the 400 Dodd-Frank rule-making deadlines had passed and only 25 percent had been met with finalized rules.

That means there are many more rules about to be written and finalized for that law alone. When you add in the health-care law, various EPA mandates, and many others with rules still to be written, Obama’s record as a regulator looks less restrained.

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her primary research interests include the U.S. economy, the federal budget, homeland security, taxation, ...

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