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Flying Blind In A Red-Tape Blizzard

How George Bush became the regulator-in-chief

Jonathan Rauch | July 18, 2007

Attention, small-government conservatives: Ever helpful, this column has found yet another reason to be unhappy with President Bush. He appears to be the biggest regulator since the Nixon-Ford years.

Last month, George Mason University's Mercatus Center and the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis released the latest of their annual reports on regulation in Washington. (The report, by Jerry Brito and Melinda Warren, is available at Mercatus.org.) Now, these numbers need to be handled with caution. They measure how much money the government's departments and agencies are spending to regulate, and how many people they are employing to do it. They give, at best, a rough indication of how quickly the regulatory wheels are turning.

The left panel of this chart tells the story. (The percentage calculations are mine, based on data supplied by the Weidenbaum Center.) From 2001 through 2006, Bush has increased inflation-adjusted regulatory spending by 6.5 percent a year, and increased regulatory staffing by 6.3 percent. You have to go back before President Carter (a deregulator) to find a president who has done as much regulatory spending and hiring as Bush. (Adding the projected figures for 2007 does not substantially change the picture.)

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