Bush regulatory spending breaks records

Annual report shows spending continues to spiral higher

After eight years in office, President Bush is on track to be one of the biggest regulatory budget spending presidents in history, according to a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

An analysis of the U.S. Budget for Fiscal Years 2008 and 2009 shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, President Bush is not alone among Republican presidents. The report also describes how eight of the 10 largest increases in regulatory spending have occurred under the leadership of Republican presidents. All but one of Richard Nixon’s annual budgets make the top 10 increases in the last 50 years, and Gerald Ford’s 1976 budget also makes the list. In addition, Nixon’s first term holds the record for the biggest increase ever at almost 82 percent. Reagan was the only president to reduce total regulation spending, bringing expenditures down by one percent during his first term.

Regulatory agency spending has reached new heights under the Bush administration, a new study finds.

President Bush topped the list with a 24.3 percent increase in 2003 according to the annual report. His 2002 regulatory budget also made the top five, growing 16.4 percent. By comparison, the average growth rate over the last 60 years has been only 6 percent.

“Bush has been a big spender across the board,” said report co-author and Mercatus Center Senior Fellow Veronique de Rugy. Overall, government spending has increased a dramatic 65 percent between 2001 and 2009, from $1.3 trillion to $3.1 trillion. When it comes to the budget for regulatory agencies, the trend is no different. After a decline in regulation during the 1980s and 1990s, the last eight years have seen an almost 68 percent jump in spending.

According to Melinda Warren, report co-author and Director of the Weidenbaum Center Forum, the 2009 regulatory budget is estimated to be $17.3 billion, or 6.4 percent, more than it was in 2000, now totaling $51.1 billion. The 2009 outlays are likely to be much higher than the budget estimates. Take the 2008 budget, for instance. To date, the spending on regulatory activities for 2008 is already significantly outpaced the figure requested by the President in February of 2007 for the 2008 budget. The 2008 budget was estimated to be only 1.7 larger than 2007, yet expenditures have already jumped to more than 8 percent over the previous year.

Staffing at regulatory agencies has grown as well, with 2009 boasting 8,359 more employees than 2008, a 3.3 percent increase. This is 88,389 more full-time regulatory employees than 2000, a 50 percent increase.

This year’s Budget Overview attempts to curtail wasteful spending, proposing to reduce or eliminate more than 150 ineffective programs and to hold discretionary spending at less than one percent. However, examples from recent years make achieving these goals seem unlikely, the report suggests.

Tracking expenditures over time allows analysts to monitor the direct cost of regulating the economy and taxpayers. The study points out, however, that regulations also impose indirect costs on taxpayers. Whether it’s the additional costs businesses face or the alternatives individuals forgo, we are paying more for regulations than what is budgeted.