Congress Should Rein in the Regulators

Article excerpt


Increasingly, American families find they have a permanent and rather demanding house guest: Uncle Sam. Federal regulators are making their presence felt more and more in our daily lives. As a result of new efficiency standards on kitchen ovens, some of our favorite recipes just don't turn out the same any more. Incandescent light bulbs will soon be a thing of the past - so thank your friendly federal regulator as you wait for your CFL bulb to build up to full brightness. And who doesn't love those mandatory low-flow toilets that have changed the flushing habits of millions?

From the bathroom to the kitchen, from the game room to the bedroom, federal regulation touches virtually every product we use (or can no longer use), every action we take. Yet the full cost of regulation remains largely invisible.

At least once a year, Americans come face to face with the magnitude of income taxes when they file income-tax returns. Their forms include a clear bottom line telling them exactly how much income tax Washington requires them to pay. Not so with regulation. Regulatory costs are hidden - embedded in the prices of products and services, in reduced innovation and in lost opportunities.

But, by any reckoning, these hidden costs are enormous. According to a report recently released by the Small Business Administration, total regulatory costs amount to about $1.75 trillion annually, nearly twice as much as all individual income taxes collected last year.

And these costs are increasing. As outlined in a recent Heritage Foundation report, in fiscal year 2010 alone, federal agencies issued 43 major new rules increasing regulatory burdens. The total costs for these rules, based on estimates by the regulators, topped $26.5 billion. That's the highest single-year increase in costs imposed via regulation since at least 1981, the earliest date for which figures are available.

Many more rules are on the way. According to one estimate, the recently passed financial-regulatory law will alone require 243 new formal rule-makings by 11 different federal agencies. A similarly large number of rulemakings will likely be required to implement the new health care law. Significant new regulations also are in the pipeline at the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as at independent agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Taken together, these initiatives embody a stunningly full regulatory agenda. Odds are this year's record for regulatory increases will not stand for long.

There is no magic bullet that will stop the excessive growth of regulation, but Congress can take steps to bring the regulatory octopus under control. …