Jeb Bush's Regulatory Reform Proposal: "Do No Harm"

By some estimates, regulations cost the U.S. economy nearly $1.88 trillion in productivity last year. In 2014 there were 16 new regulations issues for every law passed, and the Federal Register was over 77,000 pages long. Needless to say, federal regulations pose a significant obstacle to economic productivity and efficiency.

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently announced a plan to reform the regulatory process as part of his campaign. The former Governor of Florida outlined his proposal in a paper dubbed "The Regulatory Crisis in Washington" and listed three overarching goals of the plan:

"End the Washington-knows-best mentality by scaling back existing regulations and promoting smarter regulation going forward. Make regulators accountable to Americans rather than special interests. Reduce red tape and uncertainty to restore business dynamism."

To achieve those goals, Governor Bush detailed 13 policy proposals designed to reduce the regulatory burden.

  • A large component of the plan involves reviewing existing regulations to either scale them back or eliminate them entirely. Bush promises to establish a cabinet-level task force, staffed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, to oversee his regulatory reform agenda. All nominees to regulatory agencies would have to take a "regulatory 'Hippocratic Oath'" to "do no harm" through their regulatory initiatives. He would also "promptly issue an Executive Order to compel agencies -- including independent agencies -- to strictly adhere to principles of smart regulation". 
  • Bush would reform the licensing process within certain industries by offering states "appropriate federal incentives" to move towards less restrictive measures (like certifications, registrations, or no regulations at all). He also says that he would streamline federal permitting processes and nominate judges dedicated to "enforcing statutory and constitutional limits on regulators’ authority".

Many of the reforms Bush proposes in his plan would likely come with some administrative costs. For example, the cabinet-level task force would entail salaries and benefits for its members, and the incentives he would offer states to reform their licensing procedures could take the form of grants (which would necessarily require federal spending). Reviewing existing regulations might require additional employees or technology depending on how the process is carried out. It is also difficult to quantify the budgetary impact of repealing or altering regulations before those policies are identified or even formulated (see CBO's analysis of the REINS Act, which Governor Bush mentions in his plan and would require Congressional review of major regulations).

With that being said, reducing the number or impact of existing federal regulations would almost certainly result in economic growth. One of the key reforms that Bush advocates is a "regulatory budget" that ensures any new regulation isn't enacted until an old one is eliminated, capping the overall cost of regulations on the economy. Some economists estimate that could save as much as $98 billion in economic productivity.

With regulatory costs already so high, any attempt to scale them back would likely generate positive economic returns.