The $1.7 trillion burden of federal regulations

Cutting federal regulation of, well, just about everything under the sun has long been a favorite topic for Republican candidates. These concerns are often curtly dismissed by those who either currently benefit from, or hope to benefit from, the regulatory state as sops to the corporatists who bankroll their campaigns.

A report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, though, shows just how deep the federal regulatory tentacles reach, and how costly they have become. Among the depressing highlights:

• Estimated regulatory costs, while “off budget,” are equivalent to over 48% the level of federal spending itself.

• The 2011 Federal Register finished at 81,247 pages, just shy of 2010’s all-time record-high 81,405 pages.

• Regulatory compliance costs dwarf corporate income taxes of $198 billion, and exceed individual income taxes and even pre-tax corporate profits.

• Agencies issued 3,807 final rules in 2011, a 6.5 percent increase over 3,573 in 2010.

• Of the 4,128 regulations in the works at year-end 2011, 212 were “economically significant,” meaning they generally wield at least $100 million in economic impact.

The list goes on, and on, and shows little sign of getting smaller any time soon.

In discussions with folks about what they like or expect from Mitt Romney, one thing that comes up consistently is that he seems to have the necessary skills to “fix” the broken economy. He could start by taking a red pen to the Federal Register. Ease the regulatory burden, and economic benefits will follow.