Bruce Bartlett

Last week, President Bush took some long overdue action to constrain the growing burden of federal regulation on the economy. Predictably, Democrats howl that Republicans are endangering all Americans by leaving them to the mercies of greedy corporations. But they would be well advised not to block Bush’s order, because it will come in handy when Democrats retake the White House.

Liberals are so convinced that Bush is the most conservative president in American history, they have long overlooked his many transgressions from conservative orthodoxy, well documented in the new book, "Leviathan on the Right" by Michael Tanner. One has been his approach to government regulation. Contrary to the popular perception, Bush has been one of the most pro-regulation presidents—far more so than Democrat Bill Clinton, who, in many ways, was a better friend to the free market than Bush has been.

Bush started out on the right course. He appointed John D. Graham as the regulatory czar at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Tim Muris to run the Federal Trade Commission. Both were well respected by free marketeers for understanding the importance of cost-benefit analysis to regulatory policy. Free marketeers also applauded when Bush renounced the Kyoto Treaty on global warming and blocked all of the “midnight regulations” imposed in the last days of the Clinton administration.

Unfortunately, the White House later quietly allowed all of Clinton’s regulations to go through. “Principle appeared to give way to politics,” wrote George Mason University economist Susan Dudley, “and the final disposition of many of the…midnight regulations…proved little different from the Clinton version.”

By 2002, just one year into the Bush Administration, there were clear signs of backsliding. A government report endorsed the view that human activity was a principal cause of global warming and the administration signaled that it was going to become more aggressive about issuing new regulations. Said OMB’s Graham, “There’s no allergy to regulation” at the White House. It just wanted to ensure that regulations were efficient and effective. But regulation itself was justified by “the acknowledged limits of capitalism,” Graham asserted.

Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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