President Clinton crowed in his State of the Union address about the wonders of shrinking government, brought about by his rule. And indeed, discretionary budget outlays (which don't include big entitlements like Social Security and Medicare) have been shrinking since Clinton took office. But a less-obvious aspect of government is growing apace. After a dip in the late '80s, the cost of federal regulations to the American public is rising, jumping from $642 billion a year in 1993 to a projected $721 billion by 2000, based on U.S. Small Business Administration calculations.
Regulations such as Superfund, anti-dumping laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and ethanol subsidies might not cost the government much in direct outlays. But they can cost citizens a lot. "The old pork barrel…at least had to be paid for with tax dollars or deficit spending," writes the Brookings Institution's Pietro Nivola in the Winter 1998 Brookings Review. "The favoritism was explicit, concrete (often literally) and visibly priced….The new [regulatory] system is murkier. Its contents stretch far beyond earmarked appropriations…to a stack of selective legal strictures that appear budget-neutral…and that are partly in the custody…of unaccountable private attorneys general."