Last year, Congress approved, and President Obama signed into law, 72 pieces of legislation. To many Americans, that may seem a paltry amount; to conservatives, that relatively small number passes for “limited government” in this day and age. In our opinion, we already have far too many laws.
But, as you well may realize, Congress is not really where the action is when it comes to the staggering accumulation of rules that govern our lives. In this era of the administrative state, the real power lies with the bureaucracy — and it’s largely unchecked.
Consider: As Congress was passing its 72 new statutes last year, bureaucrats were adding 80,224 pages to the Federal Register — that official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents.
The Register, of course, should not be confused with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), where rules are codified and incorporated once they are issued in the form of a final regulation. The truly important distinction, need we remind you, is that these regulations and requirements, as a general rule, are not put to a vote, or even written, by our representatives, the folks we elect to do “the people’s business.” But they — think Health and Human Services’ controversial contraception mandate or any EPA diktat — carry the weight of law just the same.
So, let’s look at the CFR, as columnist Jack Kelly did recently for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. More than 13 years ago, when this century began, the Code was 138,049 pages long — as compared to 19,335 pages in 1949, 22,877 in 1960, and 71,224 in 1975. At the end of 2013, that figure had ballooned to 175,496 pages. For even greater perspective, consider this statistic, cited by Mr. Kelly: The 5,262 pages added to the CFR in 2012 were more than were added during the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy tenures combined.
To be fair, as Mr. Kelly observes, the “length of a rule ... often bears little relationship to its effect on the economy.” Nonetheless, he calls the CFR’s mushrooming a “startling” development, one magnified by the annual cost of regulatory compliance, which reached $1.9 trillion last year, as estimated by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Hence, a connection can truly be made between the Topsy-like expansion of both the Federal Register and the CFR and the fact that, since 2000, the gross domestic product has grown at half the rate witnessed throughout the previous 180 years — 3.6 percent between 1820 and the turn of this millennium.
But all green-eyeshade stuff aside, that’s not even the half of it — all this growth-shackling regulation has come courtesy not of the people we can hold accountable — i.e., our elected officials — but unelected bureaucrats.
All this, we must say, can be laid at the feet of the progressive movement that has achieved new flowering in this Age of Obama. The progressive dream has long been to empower dispassionate “experts,” shielded from the hurly-burly of politics, to attend to the people’s interests. To put it simply, if somewhat crudely, it’s a “we-know-best” approach to governance.
Look where this, the soft tyranny of the executive branch, has taken this country. Isn’t it high time we, the governed, reclaimed our foundational birthright?