Commentary by James Shott
Thanksgiving 2015 was an important day for President Barack Obama. In addition to the traditional pardoning of turkeys, he did two other notable things.
He delivered a Thanksgiving message on Thursday comparing Syrian refugees to the Pilgrims who came to North America in 1620, noting that they were also fleeing persecution. “Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims – men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families,” Obama said.
This weird mischaracterization deserves discussion, but it is the other of his Thanksgiving events that people most likely will not hear much about.
The previous day the President of the United States gave the American people a Thanksgiving gift, quietly releasing more than 2,000 new regulations that reportedly will raise the price of many common items. Furthermore, they come on top of a multi-year period of depressed economic activity left over from the 2008 recession that Obama’s policies have not relieved. Among this group of 2,224 new rules are 144 that are deemed “economically significant,” because each of them will cost the nation at least $100 million.
That group of 144 sets a new record, beating the previous high of 136 that Obama released last spring. With this sort of impact, you can understand why the Regulator-in-Chief prefers to utilize that fabulously popular political tactic of releasing bad news on a Friday, or on the eve of a holiday, so that other things will distract news organizations and the bad news will get buried by the holiday or weekend news.
Obama has used this technique frequently to hide similar releases, doing so right before a holiday seven times since Christmas of 2012.
One of the new rules is particularly notable for its importance to mankind: It mandates labeling of serving sizes for food that “can reasonably be consumed at one eating occasion.” In fact, the Thanksgiving agenda includes regulations covering a broad range of areas, from labeling requirements for pet food, new test procedures for battery chargers, mandated paid sick leave for contractors, and automatic speed limiters for trucks, to a dozen new rules limiting energy use, which will increase the cost of everything from furnaces and dishwashers to dehumidifiers, according to James Gattuso of The Heritage Foundation.
While these rules are not yet finalized, if all of them are finalized it will bring the total cost of regulation for this year to $183 billion, according to the American Action Forum.
Barack Obama may lead all presidents in the number of regulations his administration has created. From January, 2009 when he took the oath of office through 2011, the Code of Federal Regulations increased by 11,327 pages, a 7.4 percent increase, which was more than double the annual increase of the previous decade. And of the six years with the most pages of regulations added to the Federal Register, five of them belong to Obama.
At the end of 2014 the Obama administration had issued nearly 21,000 new regulations, and 2015 has seen approximately 5,000 more. It is only fair to point out that while Obama leads the pack, every recent president has also issued stacks of new regulations each year.
Robert Longely, who writes about government for About.com, explains that “[f]ederal regulations are specific details, directives or requirements with the force of law enacted by the federal agencies necessary to enforce the legislative acts passed by Congress,” and that creating the “vast and ever-growing volumes of federal regulations … happens largely unnoticed in the offices of the government agencies rather than the halls of Congress.”
This means, of course, that regulations are created not by the legislative branch, as intended by the U.S. Constitution, but by thousands of faceless, nameless, unelected and virtually unaccountable bureaucrats in the executive branch, who also create penalties with the force of law.
If there is any good news here, it is that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress 60 in-session days to review new federal regulations issued by the regulatory agencies. The CRA requires regulatory agencies to submit all new rules to the leaders of both the House and Senate, and the General Accounting Office provides information on each new major rule to those congressional committees related to the new regulation.
However, while the Congress has 60 in-session days to review and potentially reject any proposed rule, the sheer volume of material represented by 2,224 regulations means that only those major rules that will cost over $100 million will be reviewed. Therefore, most of these rules, the most harmful along with the least harmful, will likely become finalized without being adequately reviewed.
And by the way, just because the cost of a rule doesn’t exceed $100 million doesn’t mean it isn’t both expensive and harmful.
In America – whose foundational principles supported the creation of a nation of maximum individual freedom and a small, efficient and non-intrusive federal government – how many regulations and laws are enough? History teaches that unless there is a substantial change of attitude very soon, we are nowhere close to ending the growth of stifling and destructive regulations.
Cross-posted from Observations