PRESIDENT George Bush has said that he wants to be many things - the education president and the environmental president, to name just two. Unfortunately, he is wrong to think that more federal intervention is the solution; to the contrary, costly and inefficient regulation is much of the problem. What President Bush should really seek to become is the deregulation president.
Of course, he's been posing as one. Earlier this year, with the economy floundering and his poll ratings dipping, Bush suddenly evinced an interest in the impact of regulation. In his State of the Union speech he declared a 90-day moratorium on new regulation, during which time "major departments and agencies will carry out a top-to-bottom review of all regulations, old and new." In effect, Bush declared war on his own administration.
But it is turning out to be a sitzkrieg, or phony war, like that between France and Germany in 1939. For the Bush moratorium doesn't apply to emergency rules, or to the dictates of independent agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission, or to the requirements of statutes, which can be changed only by the passage of another law.
In fact, a three-month moratorium won't even reverse the damage done over the last three years by Bush's own appointees. As of last fall, 59 different agencies employing 122,000 people were working on 4,900 different regulations; 1991 saw a 26 percent increase in the number of pages in the Federal Register, to nearly 68,000, the most since 1980.
But even this figure understates the breadth of reregulation under the Bush administration. It is not just length of rules that suffocates the economy, but also who and what they affect. All told, observes the National Journal's Jonathan Rauch, "there is little doubt Bush's first term has witnessed the broadest expansions of government's regulatory reach since the early 1970s."
And the president's record is only going to grow more onerous as he implements several new laws, which collectively could hike what is already an annual, economy-wide regulatory burden of $400 billion to $500 billion - or $4,000 to $5,000 a household - by an additional $40 billion to $50 billion. If the president is serious about restoring American economic leadership, he will go to Congress with a deregulatory package, proposing to reform several statutes that he shouldn't have signed in the first place .