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The Bush De-Regulation Myth

Posted by cann0nba11 on March 15, 2009

One of the biggest myths about our current economic situation is that it was caused by the failed policies of George W. Bush. President Obama described it as “a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years…” I guess he drinks his own kool-ade. The Wicked Speaker from the West blames “the Bush administration’s eight long years of failed deregulation policies.” Captain Peanut, a.k.a. President Carter, blames the “atrocious economic policies of the Bush administration,” particularly “deregulation and . . . a withdrawal of supervision of Wall Street.”

But what is the truth?

We first need to define how to measure deregulation. I suggest three categories:

  1. Paperwork: Pages of legislation
  2. Money: Budget spending
  3. People: Staffing levels


Under the Bush Administration the Federal Register – the government’s annual compendium of proposed and finalized regulations – was more than 74,000 pages every year but one. During the Clinton years, by contrast, the Federal Register reached that length just once. Overall, the final outcome of this Republican regulation has been a significant increase in regulatory activity and cost since 2001. The number of pages added to the Federal Register, which lists all new regulations, reached an all-time high of 78,090 in 2007, up from 64,438 in 2001.

In addition, President Bush signed hundreds of laws commanding federal agencies to produce new regulations. One is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which established new or enhanced standards for all publicly held companies and accounting firms in the United States. Another is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which imposed new restrictions on campaign spending and prohibited unregulated contributions (“soft money”) to national political parties.


Adjusting for inflation, the regulatory budget grew from $25 billion in fiscal year 2000 to an estimated $43 billion in FY 2009 – a 70 percent increase. “In constant dollars,” writes James Freeman in the Wall Street Journal, “the Bush regulatory budget increases vastly exceed those of predecessors Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and, yes, Lyndon Johnson.” Freeman also write “Looking at regulatory spending in percentage terms, Mr. Bush’s staggering 2003 increase of more than 24% was the largest in the last 50 years.”

Ten Largest Annual Percentage Increases
in Total Regulatory Budget Spending (last 50 years)

GW Bush 2003
Nixon 1973
Nixon 1971
GW Bush 2002
Nixon 1972
Kennedy 1963
Ford 1976
Nixon 1970
Johnson 1968
Nixon 1975

The Bush team spent more taxpayer money on issuing and enforcing regulations than any previous administration in U.S. history. Between fiscal year 2001 and fiscal year 2009, outlays on regulatory activities, adjusted for inflation, increased from $26.4 billion to an estimated $42.7 billion, or 62 percent. By contrast, President Clinton increased real spending on regulatory activities by 31 percent, from $20.1 billion in 1993 to $26.4 billion in 2001.

With specific regard for the category of finance and banking, expenditures were cut by 3 percent during the Clinton years and increased 29 percent from 2001 to 2009, making it very hard to argue that Bush deregulated the financial sector.


Let’s look at staffing levels. Regulatory agencies employed 175,000 people in 2000. They employ nearly 264,000 today. In eight years, Bush increased the federal government’s regulatory staff by 91,196 employees. In his eight years Clinton cut it by 969.

So there you have it. The Bush Adminstration spent more, wrote more, and employed more. Tell me Mr. President and Madam Speaker, how with a clear conscience can George W. Bush be called a failed de-regulator?


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