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home : opinion : opinion

10/16/2013 12:57:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Regulatory overreach: the new normal

By Don C. Brunell

News stories about the government shutdown have shined a spotlight on the issue of government overreach.

Folks are bristling at the sight of federal park rangers blocking elderly veterans from visiting the privately funded World War II memorial in Washington, D. C. Rangers also erected barriers to keep visitors from George Washington's Mount Vernon home - which is a private park operated without federal money. But the booby prize must go to the federal park rangers in South Dakota who coned off roadside viewpoints on a public highway so tourists couldn't take pictures of Mount Rushmore.

These actions sparked rebellion in some quarters as veterans and others vowed to storm the barricades. It would be helpful if people were similarly outraged over being muscled around by federal regulators.

Recently, government lawyers told a skeptical three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals that the unprecedented attempt by the IRS to regulate tax preparers was based on the Horse Act of 1884, which dealt with horses lost or killed in the Civil War.

Really?

The subject of regulatory overreach also surfaced when the Obama administration unilaterally delayed, altered or refused to enforce provisions of Obamacare. Neither the president nor the IRS had the legal right to do so.

Despite these colorful examples, it's difficult to get people interested in regulatory overreach. Compared to blocking 90-year old World War II veterans from visiting their memorial, overregulation seems technical and remote.

Perhaps this will help: Reach into your pocket and pull out $5,732.48. Now hand it over to the feds. That is your share of the cost of federal regulations this year alone - not counting state and local regulations. The feds don't deduct the money from your paycheck - you pay it in higher prices and lost productivity as hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent complying with regulations instead of hiring people and producing products.

Of course, we need reasonable regulations to protect consumers and ensure public safety. But the federal regulatory machine is running amok.

The Washington Post reports that the federal government imposed some $216 billion in new regulatory costs in 2012 alone. Much of the economic impact is due to rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants - part of President Obama's climate change legislation that failed to make it through Congress. Having failed in the Legislative Branch, the president unilaterally implemented the law through Executive Branch regulations. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates the regulations will drain a minimum of a $100 billion a year from the economy. Those are American jobs that are being flushed.

Too often, federal bureaucrats complicate things even when they try to simplify them. For example, in 2012, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau moved to simplify the mortgage process. The rules run an astonishing 1,099 pages.

But that's nothing. Obamacare reportedly has 20,000 pages of rules - and counting. Medicare has 132,000 pages of rules.

It's not just the final rules that cause heartburn. Employers must track tens of thousands of proposed rules and regulations each year, analyzing impacts, testifying at hearings and providing formal written comments.

How many rules are we talking about?

The Federal Register lists proposed and final rules, notices, corrections and presidential documents. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the 1939 Federal Register was 2,620 pages long. The 2012 version ran 78,961 pages. Over the last 20 years alone, the Register has published 1.43 million pages of regulations.

So, what to do about it?

Perhaps it's time to emulate those World War II veterans who dismantled the barricades that blocked them from a memorial erected in their honor. Perhaps it's time for all of us to say, "Enough is enough."

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. AWB serves as both the state's chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. For more about AWB, visit www.awb.org.



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