Photo: Pete Souza

Photo: Pete Souza

How many government rules do we need?

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), federal regulators issued more than 2,000 new rules in 2013—doing such helpful things as restricting access to mortgage credit and imposing new limits on the amount of energy a microwave oven can consume when it is in standby mode or turned off. Seriously.

A new Heritage study shows the Obama administration is rolling out the red tape at a record pace. Since taking office, Obama has instituted 157 new major rules and mandates at a cost to American taxpayers of $73 billion a year. That’s more than double the amount of such regulations his predecessor, George W. Bush, had implemented in his first five years.

Obama’s belief that he doesn’t need Congress to implement his policy agenda—he’ll just use his phone and pen—is certainly a big part of the problem. But he’s bolstered by a Congress that passes such vaguely worded legislation it allows unelected bureaucrats in federal agencies all over Washington to write up the real rules.

>>> Check out our infographic on Obama’s red tape

The 907-page Affordable Care Act; the 1,582–page, trillion-dollar spending bill (accompanied by 1,278 pages of explanatory statements); and the 959-page farm bill were too long for most members of Congress to read, but apparently they weren’t long enough to spell out how these laws would work. So the bureaucrats at Health and Human Services, the IRS, the FDA, the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and all the other alphabet-soup agencies who aren’t accountable to voters, will handle all those details.

How convenient for our elected officials. This way, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can not only say she didn’t know what was in the health care law before she voted for it; she can also say she isn’t responsible for its implementation. That part you don’t like? That’s from the guys down the street at the IRS and HHS.

And what are the proven benefits, costs, and potentially unintended consequences of all these regulations? You aren’t supposed to ask that question in Washington—sometimes because the people running things don’t know the answer, but many times because they do.

For example, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced its forthcoming climate change regulations, nowhere did the Obama administration or its officials report that these mandates would destroy nearly 600,000 jobs over the next 10 years, 330,000 of which would be manufacturing jobs, and that a family of four’s income would likely drop by $1,200 per year. And nowhere did the EPA prove that the regulations would have any meaningful environmental benefit.

Or take the menu-labeling mandate, one of many onerous regulations under Obamacare. The Food and Drug Administration, the agency charged with carrying it out, says the first-year costs of implementation across all affected businesses will be $537 million. Industry experts, however, say it could cost $1 billion for supermarkets alone.

But, why figure all that out in advance? Why give consumers a heads up that this regulation means they’ll be paying more when they go out to eat and facing higher prices at the grocery store? Oh, and by the way, not only is there no evidence the menu labeling works; there is actually evidence it does not.

And more unaccountable intervention is on the way. More than 2,300 planned regulations are in the pipeline, including one from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would require new cars to have a rear-mounted video camera and in-vehicle screen to reduce the likelihood of a vehicle striking a pedestrian while in reverse. No word yet on whether bureaucrats can tell that people will look at the screen any more than their rearview mirrors before backing up. You can, however, count on the fact it will increase the price of every car.

All these rules have a strangling effect on the economy and grow the size and reach of government—two things we definitely don’t need.