Counting the Costs of Federal Regulations

President Joe Biden’s recent affinity for ‘big government’ is no secret. Between funding social justice workshops for artists and ringfencing parts of the Pacific to save the whales, President Biden is putting the federal government into overdrive and overdraft to advance his agenda. But the cost of these ambitions may be much higher than the sticker price. The most recent version of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s “Ten Thousand Commandments” report casts a dim light on the additional costs that the Biden administration will foster onto consumers, taxpayers, and businesses.

More formally known as “Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State,” the yearly CEI report details the hidden costs of complying with, and policing, federal agencies’ rampant rulemaking. The 2021 edition bookends the Trump administration with an assessment of bureaucratic regulations in 2020 and offers a glimpse at the emerging trends of the Biden administration.

After three years of President Donald Trump’s public tug of war with Washington’s byzantine bureaucracy, the report’s assessment of Trump’s final year in office bears few surprises. Shortly after taking office in January 2017, then-president Trump issued Executive Order 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” The EO codified the “one in, two out” rule; for every new bureaucratic rule made by a federal agency, two would have to be sacrificed in the process. Despite a few politically induced lapses, such as a ban on offshore wind development in the country’s southeast, the Trump administration held true to its deregulatory agenda.

The CEI report also provides an insightful snapshot of regulatory accountability. According to “The Ten Thousand Commandments,” in the final year of the Trump administration federal agencies issued 3,353 rules and Congress enacted 178 bills. Together, that equates to roughly 19 bureaucratic decrees for every congressionally enacted bill. While that ratio may seem high, the CEI report notes that the previous decade’s average was that each new law led to 28 new bureaucratic rules.

While the annual report provides a clear-eyed account of the Trump administration’s regulatory track record, it also helps to contextualize the policies of the Biden administration as it makes it mark on the expanse of federal agencies.

In an effort to distinguish himself from his predecessor, President Biden made it a priority to revoke EO 13771 on his first day in office. While his supporters will no doubt laud this political showmanship, President Biden has unfortunately sacrificed the guardrails of accountability in the process. According to the report’s author, the federal regulatory leviathan costs the American public some $1.9 trillion each year. While the calculations are hamstrung by the tight-lipped bureaucracy, the $1.9 trillion figure draws on simple factors such as the cost to both file and process federal paperwork.

With an exorbitant regulatory cost under even the bureaucracy-busting Trump team, the report makes for pessimistic reading under the current administration. A heady mix of sky-high spending bills and limited bureaucratic accountability have opened the gates to further unchecked federal rulemaking. As the CEI report notes, the “impulse to regulation is unencumbered under Biden’s new executive directives to agencies.” Calculating the cost of federal bureaucratic rulemaking is a tough task, and the authors of the annual CEI report acknowledge that it’s a mix of art and science. But if the true cost of federal rulemaking is even a fraction of the report’s $1.9 trillion annual figure, that’s cause for concern.

Scorecards like that of CEI help taxpayers, consumers, and voters to assess the growth of the federal bureaucratic leviathan. Without it, byzantine and opaque federal agencies remain out of sight and out of mind, while consumers are left out of pocket.

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