Washington, D.C. – The regulatory agencies and commissions under President Joe Biden’s administration wrapped up the year 2023 with a staggering 3,018 legally binding rules and regulations. While this number may seem high, it is actually fairly typical as annual rule counts have consistently exceeded 3,000 in recent years. In fact, back in the 1990s, rule counts exceeded 4,000, and in the 1970s and early 80s, they even surpassed 7,000.
The large number of rules and regulations, coupled with the increasingly costly nature of these regulations, highlights the growing accumulation of fat rules in the Federal Register, which finished 2023 at a record-breaking 90,402 pages. Sub-regulatory guidance documents and executive decrees are playing an increasingly prominent role under presidents who are inclined to act without Congress.
In contrast to the high number of rules and regulations, the number of bills signed into law in 2023 was relatively low. Only 65 bills were signed into law in calendar year 2023, with just 31 of them attributable to the new 118th Congress. This low level of enactments has been referred to as “dysfunction” by some, but others argue that it may be appropriate to pause and appreciate the need for fewer laws and regulations.
One perspective is that Congress has been over-legislating in recent years, with numerous major laws being enacted, such as the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Act, and the American Rescue Plan. These large-scale laws are often accompanied by smaller, less consequential laws, such as the Duck Stamp Modernization Act or post office renamings.
The ratio of agency rules to laws passed by Congress, known as the “Unconstitutionality Index,” provides insight into the significant role that federal administrative agencies play in lawmaking. In 2023, there were 46 agency rules issued for every law passed by Congress, compared to an average of 24 rules issued for every law passed over the past decade.
While agencies are often blamed for regulatory overreach, it is important to recognize that Congress plays a significant role in enabling this overreach through its own actions. The Index serves as a reminder of the centrality of the Administrative State and highlights the need for reforms and restraints on both agency rulemaking and congressional legislation.
As the new year begins and the second session of the 118th Congress gets underway, attention will likely be given to the legislative/regulatory state’s contribution to the size and scope of the federal government. It is crucial to strike a balance between getting things done and ensuring that unnecessary laws and regulations are not burdensome to the American people.
In conclusion, the high number of rules and regulations issued by federal agencies under President Biden’s administration highlights the significant role that these agencies play in lawmaking. The Unconstitutionality Index serves as a reminder of the imbalance between agency rulemaking and congressional legislation. As the new year progresses, it will be interesting to see if there are any efforts to address this issue and curtail the growth of the Administrative State.