Republicans Don’t Really Hate Regulations

Building on some analysis I did a while ago using the Unified Agenda, I decided to test whether or not the overall level of regulatory activity went up under President Obama compared to President Bush. I thought it would be interesting to test whether or not Republicans were sincere when they say they object to the regulatory state out of constitutional principle.

I’m sure you’ll all be surprised to find that, much like the oft-touted Republican principles of state’s rights and local control, this turned out to be utter B.S. in practice.

Note: F and S denote Fall and Spring editions of the Unified Agenda

If we change the scale on the vertical axis to get a better look at the overall trend, it seems that the regulatory state was actually more active under Bush on average than under Obama.

It lurches back up as a new administration comes in, but it doesn’t quite reach the same level that Bush’s did at the same point in his presidency. Breaking down the percentage passed by each bears this out further.

Note: the 2008 and 2016 agendas (Spring and Fall) were both created before the election took place.

I’m certain that all sorts of True Scotsman could appear to tell me that they really do object to regulations even if their elected representatives do not, but this gets to the crux of my problem with any conservative objecting to the regulatory and administrative state on principle: they’re more than happy to use it when it’s theirs.

That is as it should be. After all, federal regulations have a tremendous impact on how people live their lives. While some are political appointees, a majority of the staff of these agencies are experts in highly specialized fields and we depend on their ability to understand complicated things like farming subsidies or pharmaceutical research because the average citizen can’t be expected to adequately educate themselves on all these topics.

Much like the filibuster in the Senate, the regulatory state is an affront to democracy when Republicans are out of the White House and a useful tool when they are in control of it. The question of regulations is a complicated one and it should be focused on discussions of how and where this regulatory power should be used, not whether or not it should exist at all.

Full disclosure: this is an imperfect measure of regulatory activity. After all, not all regulations are created equal and some take years to develop because of their complexity and the system of public comment and revision. I maintain that it still does give an insight into how administrations and the departments they oversee engage in regulation-making in general. If people would like access to the data I used let me know.