Obama regs have cost $500B, report finds

President Obama’s administration was responsible for nearly $500 billion in regulatory costs during his first five years in office, according to a new report.

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The American Action Forum, a center-right policy research institute, found that the Obama administration slapped businesses with $112 billion in regulatory compliance costs in 2013 alone, and predicted that the burden would continue to increase this year to as much as $143 billion.
 
"From 2009 to 2013, regulators have published $494 billion in final rules," Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at the American Action Forum (AAF), wrote in the report. "This figure dwarfs the gross domestic product (GDP) from countries like Sweden, Peru, and Ireland." 
 
According to the AAF report, the new regulations in 2013 translated into $447 million per day for each of the 251 days that the federal government was open.

The AAF study found that 80,224 pages of regulations were published in the Federal Register in 2013 — an increase of nearly 3,000 pages from the year before, but down from other years of the Obama administration.

That led to 10.38 billion hours of paperwork for the federal government in 2013, an increase of 157.9 million hours from the year before. The report said it would take more than 78,000 full-time employees to complete just the additional paperwork.

The AAF also found that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) reviewed 104 "economically-significant" rules last year, which was a 25 percent increase from 2012, and said the two most costly were Tier 3 emissions standards and efficiency standards for motors.

One advocacy group says the numbers are misleading.

Amit Narang of Public Citizen, a liberal consumer watchdog that favors stronger regulations, noted that the study includes both final rules and proposed rules that have not yet taken effect.
 
"These are rules that no one is required to comply with currently," Narang said. "That's why it's a little bit misleading to talk about compliance costs from proposed rules, because no one is spending any money to comply with proposed rules."
 
But proposed rules often become final rules in the following year, which is why the American Action Forum argues it is important to track both numbers. The group breaks down the 2013 regulatory cost into $24.6 billion for final rules and $87.4 billion for proposed rules.
 
"The whole point of this exercise is to track everything — to track final rules, to track proposed rules, to track benefits," Batkins said.
 
The study also found that the benefits of these regulations totaled $87 billion in 2013, which it called a "7 percent discount." That includes a $10.2 billion benefit from the Department of Energy's efficiency standards in the form of energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
 
But Narang said government numbers show the benefits outweigh the costs of such regulations.
 
"It is nice to see them talking about the benefits that regulations provide to the public, which they haven't done in the past," Narang said. "But their numbers are directly at odds with official government figures that show regulations provide more benefits to the American public than their costs."
 
Regulations under the Obama administration have been particularly heavy in the healthcare, environment and finance sectors, with agencies writing rules to implement ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank laws.
 
The AAF said what the business community sees as a "heavy-hand" by the Obama administration has been quietly easing since 2010, the most costly year for regulations in recent history — but said that has been changing.

"Without Election Day politics driving policy, overall regulatory activity increased from 2012 levels," the report says.

Batkins said the AAF plans to keep a close eye this year on healthcare regulations as well as how the Environmental Protection Agency regulates greenhouse gas emissions at power plants.
 
The American Action Forum's report was based on numbers from OIRA, which is a branch of the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

— This story was updated at 3:25 p.m.