If you're like most Americans, the phrase "the cost of government" brings to mind thoughts of spending programs and tax increases. But there's another way that government costs us money. Something that often flies under the radar: regulations.
Think they don't affect you? They do. It doesn't matter where you live, what size your income is, or whether you operate your own business.
Take the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or Dodd-Frank. Just a law that targets underhanded, overfed fat cats, right? Wrong. The new regulations stemming from Dodd-Frank are hastening the death of locally-based small banks that have long served their communities.
More and more small banks -- in some cases, ones that go back to the 1800s -- are shutting down or merging with larger rivals because they've found that they're unable to cope with the flood of new regulations coming out of Washington.
The owners of Shelter Financial Bank, for example, a $200 million bank in Columbia, Mo., closed their doors after estimating that Dodd-Frank would add $1 million more to the bank's expenses. According to one bank official: "It was going to cost more than what we got out of the bank."
Multiply the number of banks forced to make the same decision, and can see how regulations are helping to stymy any kind of economic recovery. Consider what Thomas Boyle, vice chairman of Illinois's State Bank of Countryside told Congress:
"Banks are working every day to make credit and financial services available. Those efforts, however, are made more difficult by regulatory costs and second-guessing by bank examiners.
"Combined with the hundreds of new regulations expected from the Dodd-Frank Act, these pressures are slowly but surely strangling traditional community banks, handicapping our ability to meet the credit needs of our communities.
"The consequences are real. Costs are rising, access to capital is limited, and revenue sources have been severely cut. It means that fewer loans get made. It means a weaker economy. It means slower job growth."
Unfortunately, the way in which Dodd-Frank has affected community banks is only a small part of a much larger picture. James Gattuso and Diane Katz have been documenting the scope of regulatory creep for years, and their latest Heritage Foundation report, "Red Tape Rising: Regulation in Obama's First Term," is a real eye-opener.
They found that during President Obama's first five years in office, the annual regulatory burdens on Americans increased by nearly $73 billion (an increase of over $230 for every man, woman and child in the entire country). A total of 157 new major regulations were imposed.
"Major," in this case, means rules expected to cost at least $100 million annually. But there are many smaller rules in existence, and they all exact a cost. So that $73 billion price tag, as big as it is, is an underestimate of what regulation is really costing us.
The most expensive new regulation: an Obamacare-related mandate requiring health insurers to provide "parity" in benefits between mental health or substance abuse services and other benefits, at a cost of almost a billion dollars each year.
As hard as it may be to believe, this is only the beginning. Significantly more regulation is coming, with 125 additional rules in the pipeline. These include dozens more rules for implementing Dodd--Frank and Obamacare.
It's clearly past time for Congress to stem this regulatory tide. Lawmakers should require congressional approval of any new major regulations that agencies promulgate. Another common-sense solution: stipulating that all major regulations have an expiration ("sunset") date.
Or will lawmakers allow Thomas Boyle's warnings of a weaker economy and slower job growth go unheeded?
Ed Feulner is founder of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).