What the Unified Agenda Tells Us About Regulation’s Impending Burdens

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Unified Agenda of new regulations only tells part of the story.

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The recently published Unified Agenda of federal regulatory activity shows a total of 136 regulations that are “economically significant” – that is, those that will have an impact of $100 million or more.

Out of these 136 active rulemakings still at the pre-rule, proposed rule, or final rule stages of development, the Agenda lists specific authorizing legislation for forty-two. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) received ten mentions, while agencies cited Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform legislation, as the authorizing authority for four pending rules.

For those health care regulations under the ACA that have advanced far enough along in the rulemaking process to have generated agency cost estimates, the rules would impose up to $3.3 billion in combined costs and more than 580,000 in combined paperwork burden hours.

The most significant ACA regulation on tap for 2013 will address benefit and payment parameters and would require health issuers to incur “administrative and hardware costs.” Likewise, states complying with the law would incur similar burdens. Agency analysts have concluded that at least when issuers of health insurance do not receive compensating payments from the federal government to cover these burdens, the insurers “could pass on to beneficiaries through premium increases.”

Taking a look at the four pending Dodd-Frank regulations listed in the Agenda, three of these rules could impose more than 1.4 million paperwork burden hours and $101 million in costs combined. One Dodd-Frank regulation addressing fees for large bank holding companies does not have available cost-benefit information listed. However, according to the White House, the measure will collect fees on financial institutions with assets of $50 billion or greater in order fund the new Office of Financial Research, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Additional economically significant rules under Dodd-Frank are likely underway, but the Unified Agenda excludes cost information for the independent agencies that are implementing the financial reform law. Until independent agencies produce detailed regulatory impact analyses, these regulatory totals should be viewed as a floor, not a ceiling, for pending activity.

For example, we know that the Volcker rule, scheduled for publication in January, will likely impose more than 6 million paperwork burden hours, but it does not appear in the Agenda as a significant regulation. Annual stress test rules, Basel III capital margins, and standards for remittance transfers are also notable Dodd-Frank regulations scheduled for 2013, but are not covered under Executive Order 12,866.

Beyond discerning the legislative triggers that drive new regulatory activity, what can the recent Unified Agenda tell us about the business sectors that are most likely to be affected in 2013 by rules that are in the pipeline? A general answer can be gleaned by looking at the sections of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) that will be affected by the new rules, as each of the CFR’s fifty titles approximately represents a different sector of the economy.

Of the 136 economically significant regulatory actions in the latest agenda, Title 7 (Agriculture), recorded the most citations: 15 rules. However, these economically significant agricultural proposals do not always translate into true regulatory burdens, as many of them merely transfer money from the federal government to another entity.

Other sections of the CFR affected include Title 40, on the Environment, which had ten citations, and Title 42, on Public Health. Both EPA and the Department of Energy are likely to publish regulations in 2013 with economic impacts in the billions of dollars.

Of course, the designation of rules as “economically significant” and the summary information in the Unified Agenda only tells part of the story on the burdens of new regulation. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Sam Batkins

Sam Batkins is the Director of Regulatory Policy at the American Action Forum. He previously worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Institute for Legal Reform and the National Taxpayers Union.