In President Barack Obama’s final year in office, the administration’s annual draft report to Congress on new federal regulations is later than usual and on track to arrive at least as late as last year.
When the report does land, it likely will show Obama far outpaced his immediate predecessors by imposing a tangle of regulations that put a $100 billion drag on the economy, according to a Heritage Foundation report, “Red Tape Rising.”
Obama has drawn criticism for taking executive actions without Congress on big issues such as amnesty for illegal immigrants and restrictions on gun control ownership. But like his predecessors in the White House, he also has presided over a quiet proliferation of rules and regulations that cost American families and businesses.
The annual report on the cost and benefit of new regulations is intended to provide Congress with data it needs to oversee these significant actions of the executive branch.
“The reason this matters to the general public is that we reliably know every February the budget of the federal government is available; whether we read it or not, we can see government outlays and revenue,” Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
“The same should apply to regulation,” Crews said. “If the tax burden is visible, then everyone should see the hidden regulatory tax burden.”
The annual report—officially called “Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Unfunded Mandates on State, Local, and Tribal Entities”—is a legal requirement imposed on the executive branch as part of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 and buttressed by the Regulatory Right to Know Act in 2000.
“Without this report, there is a big gap in accountability,” @Wayne_Crews says
“The president is vowing to use the pen and the phone in his remaining time. Without this report, there is a big gap in accountability,” Crews said, referring to Obama’s assertion that he would advance his agenda regardless of Congress.
The Obama administration’s 2015 report to Congress, covering fiscal year 2014 (October 2013 through September 2014), didn’t arrive until March of this year. The draft report didn’t arrive until October 2015, a record.
So it’s a near certainty the Obama administration’s final report, covering fiscal year 2015, will be released during the term of the next president.
And, Crews said, there might be little incentive for the administration to release the draft report to Congress before the presidential election Nov. 8.
A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget had no update on the status of the 2016 report, referring The Daily Signal to the 2015 report.
The White House posts previous reports on its website, going back to 1997.
The Obama administration has overseen “record-setting” growth in government regulations, said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at the American Action Forum, which describes itself as a center-right conservative think tank in Washington.
The Obama administration is on pace to impose 650 regulations from the president’s inauguration in January 2009 until his departure this coming January, Batkins said.
That’s an average of one major regulation every three days, he said. The final number could be 30 percent more regulations than under President George W. Bush and about 40 percent more than under President Bill Clinton.
“People wonder why wages are down, why productivity is down, why GDP isn’t what it should be,” Batkins told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “It’s because these regulations impact the economy.”
The Heritage Foundation put the number of eventual regulations under Obama at close to 800 in its “Red Tape Rising” report in May focused on the costs to the economy.
The Office of Management and Budget defines “economically significant regulations” as those costing at least $100 million to implement.
The Obama administration has imposed between 125 and 144 economically significant regulations per year, Heritage senior research fellows Diane Katz and James Gattuso wrote, adding:
The addition of 43 new major rules last year increased annual regulatory costs by more than $22 billion, bringing the total annual costs of Obama administration rules to an astonishing $100 billion-plus in just seven years.
The effects of this rampant rulemaking are widespread. Among them: higher energy rates from the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan”; increased food prices for both people and pets as a result of excessively prescriptive food production standards; restricted access to credit for consumers and small businesses under Dodd-Frank financial regulations; fewer health care choices and higher medical costs because of the Affordable Care Act; and reduced internet investment and innovation under the network neutrality rules dictated by the Federal Communications Commission.
The tide of regulation is expected to rise even higher in 2016—President Barack Obama’s final year in the White House. Historically, rulemaking increases as presidents scramble to fulfill their regulatory agenda before leaving office. With 144 new rules already in the pipeline, Americans should be prepared for a regulatory surge before year’s end.
Administrations typically put the best face on their annual regulations report to Congress, stating the rules provided more benefits than cost. The 2015 report, for example, said the rules had a net benefit of $22 billion and a net cost of $4 billion for businesses, individuals, and state and local governments.
Nevertheless, aside from the spin and conclusions, the reports do provide useful data for Congress, Crews said.
The George W. Bush administration managed to get the draft report to Congress between February and April each year, except for Bush’s final year in office. In 2008, it released the list of new rules in September, according to an analysis from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank.
Obama kept the pattern during his first year in office, with a draft supplied by September 2009. But in the five years from 2010 through 2014, the administration got a draft to Congress between March and May.
However, last year the draft did not arrive until October, a month later than Bush’s last year in the White House.
This report was modified to specify “Red Tape Rising” as the report from The Heritage Foundation on the costs of federal regulations.