Businesses large and small face more uncertainty today about the federal regulatory environment than at any point since the New Deal radically increased the role of the government in the nation's economy. Thanks to Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, plus President Obama's decision to use bureaucratic regulation to start major initiatives like cap and trade that Congress refused to pass, the federal bureaucracy has been drafting new regulations at an unprecedented pace. Seeing this tsunami of red tape flooding out of Washington, company owners and executives wisely opt to delay new hires and investments until they have a clearer idea how much their already huge compliance costs will increase and how the markets will be warped by changes mandated by the bureaucrats.
As House Speaker John Boehner noted earlier this week in a blog post, "a simple scan of the Obama administration's current regulatory agenda indicates that the administration currently has 4,257 new regulatory actions in the works, of which at least 219 will have an economic impact of $100 million or more. That is an increase of nearly 15 percent over last year, when a similar search showed 191 new economically significant regulatory actions by the administration to be in the works." Even before those 4,257 new regulations go into effect, the Federal Register shows more than 81,000 pages of regulations, which result in compliance costs in excess of $1.7 trillion, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute's "Ten Thousand Commandments: How much regulation is enough" report for 2010.
But Boehner points to an even scarier fact about this Obama-inspired avalanche of new federal regulation: By the government's own estimates, at least one of the multiple new major rules being proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could cost as much as $90 billion. Some independent analysts put the cost of new EPA regulations at more than $1 trillion. Boehner last year asked Obama to provide Congress with a list of all proposed regulations with estimated costs of $1 billion or more. Obama never produced the requested list, so Boehner is again asking the president to provide it to Congress. We hope the speaker isn't holding his breath waiting.
Nobody expects Obama to instruct the bureaucrats at the EPA and elsewhere in the executive branch to cease and desist, which means there will be no significant economic growth in this country between now and the 2012 election. Unless the EPA delays enforcement of several of its most draconian new rules, unemployment may actually increase between now and the election. It's almost as if Obama thinks the dead hand of regulation -- with all of the economic stagnation that follows -- is good for us.